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APLU Issues New Report on Police Body-Worn Cameras, Encourages Campuses to Consider Their Use

Washington, DC – Campus police departments that use body-worn cameras (BWCs) on campus officers stand to benefit from increased transparency and accountability along with improved community relations, according to a new policy brief the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) issued today. In encouraging universities to consider implementing or piloting a BWC program, APLU cautioned that institutions should carefully consider a host of other factors, including cost and policies for use and storage of footage, before deciding whether to proceed.

“University police departments are critical to ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and the entire campus community. The evidence shows that body-worn cameras can help build trust between officers and the community, which helps police departments be even more effective at keeping everyone safe,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “While there are clear benefits to the use of body-worn cameras, there are an array of factors, including costs, that won’t make such programs the right fit for each campus. In this new report, APLU lays out the key factors universities should consider when deciding whether to implement a body-worn camera program and we include an outline of guidelines and policies that institutions should put in place if they proceed with the use of these cameras. One thing that’s clear from institutions that have already adopted body-worn cameras: universities will be well-served if they engage officers, community members, and all stakeholders early on in a conversation about the use of body-worn cameras.”

While there hasn’t been research reported on the effectiveness of BWCs specifically on college campuses, findings from surveys of municipal police departments show that BWCs can reduce the use of excessive force within office/citizen interactions. One study found that complaints against officers dropped 90 percent with the use of BWCs (0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts down to 0.07 complaints per 1,000 contacts). With more police departments utilizing BWCs, research has also shown that officers find the cameras indispensable to their work, noting that the unbiased third-party account of a BWC can help divisive issues within communities.

“Campus safety and police departments consistently look for improved ways to serve their communities,” said Kim Richmond, Director of the National Center for Campus Public Safety. “As with any new technology, careful consideration must be given to policy and practice prior to implementation. This report provides useful information for those considering the use of body worn cameras, or reviewing their current policies.”

APLU’s report found that the costs associated with use of BWCs range widely depending on the features of the device, specifically functionality, battery life, and storage capacity. While such devices currently range from $120 to $2,000; the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found that most police agencies prefer cameras that range in price from $800 to $1,200. This upfront investment is not usually the largest cost consideration; rather, data storage is commonly reported as the largest cost factor. While costs for storage can vary widely, some agencies have noted that video storage for 50 full-time officers’ recordings for one month can range between $5,000 and $10,000. State laws differ on how long police departments need to store BWC footage.

The association notes that it is essential for all campus police departments that use BWCs to have clear guidelines and policies for BWC use and that such policies should be regularly reviewed and updated. The APLU report cites a series of principles police departments should adopt per a 2014 recommendation from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, including: having clear policies for use in writing; ensuring privacy and data quality; regular evaluations of the BWC program; and public transparency and notice about the use of cameras.

The full APLU report, which contains a vast array of references and examples of lessons learned from police departments with existing BWC programs, can be found at www.aplu.org/bwc.

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