Penn Police already has more than 130 cameras set up around campus. Now the Division of Public Safety is considering putting cameras on its officers.
Penn is researching the possibility of following in the footsteps of Philadelphia Police Department’s body camera pilot program. Launched on Dec. 1 , the program consists of 31 volunteer officers who are now patrolling the 22nd District with the new technology. The pilot program is a result of a year of research on the use of body cameras at the PPD, Public Information Officer for the Philadelphia Police John Stanford said. He added that this initiative echoes the presidential task force on 21st century policing recently established by President Barack Obama.
The program employs six different brands of body cameras that will be narrowed down based on the best fit for the department. Currently, the body cameras are only on during the daytime, mainly due to storage limitations, but Stanford said they will “slowly progress into the night time.”
Body cameras are useful in enhancing community-police relationships since they provide reliable accounts of interactions between law enforcement officers and citizens.
“Videos generally don’t lie. It’s a win-win option in many ways,” Stephanos Bibas, professor of law and criminology at Penn Law School, said. Body cameras will reduce abusive police power, but will also makes it harder to make false charges against police officers, he added.
However, Bibas also raised concerns about privacy, especially when they enter residence buildings and other private places. To that concern, Stanford said, “Once [the police officers] arrive at the scene, they will ask the residents if they are comfortable with the camera on. If not, the officers will document it and turn the cameras off.”
Keeping these concerns in mind, Penn Police is also analyzing the effectiveness of body cameras. PennComm, the emergency communications response team of DPS , already operates an extensive system of static cameras. The cameras rotate 360 degrees and can see up to three blocks away.
“Those cameras are very similar to the body cameras," Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. She added that they are always on and store information for about 16 to 30 days.
Stanford said that body cameras are the natural next step in police technology, calling them “the future of policing.”
“It’s a reality of the world,” he added. “Back in history, radios were only installed in police cars. Now you have officers carrying radios.”
Alluding to the recent public attention on police brutality, Bibas pointed to body cameras as a possible solution.
“Imagine,” he said, “what if we had a body camera video in Ferguson? A lot of these problems might be easier to figure out.”
Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush saying Penn Police cameras store footage "for a long time." She said they store the footage for about 16 to 30 days. The article has been updated to reflect this information.
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