The Stony Brook University Police Department has deployed a fleet of new body-worn cameras, intended to increase transparency.
The initiative, which began on March 27, also aims to reduce unfounded allegations against officers and to increase protection of the campus community. After conducting a pilot program in the fall 2016 semester, the department settled on the Axon Body 2 camera.
During the pilot phase, officers tested three different camera models and gave feedback to the department about their ease of use in the field. Back at headquarters, officers analyzed the cameras based on their evidence and records collection and the impact of the cameras on privacy.
The cameras will run in a “passive mode,” according to Deputy Chief of Police Bruce Redden. This means that cameras will run in a 30 second loop throughout each officer’s shift, which is recorded over unless the officer presses the record button. When this happens, the preceding 30 seconds of video are saved, as is the video and audio of the event that takes place after officers hit record.
“Officers will use the cameras during all traffic stops, and depending on what the situation is, something more active,” Redden said.
The cameras will not be on when officers are responding to a call about a lost wallet but will be on for more significant calls.
If an officer’s body camera has a blinking light, it is recording. Individuals can also ask the officer if the officer’s camera is recording.
Recordings from the cameras will be saved for 120 days, unless a file is needed for evidence. Files stored longer will be stored “consistent with current retention laws,” according to the UPD website.
“It’s a very robust system, we know everything that has gone on from every aspect,” Redden said.
Concerns about privacy have made the use of body cameras in law enforcement a controversial subject.
“I guess it’s preventative, it’s good to take initiative,” Kathleen Folan, a sophomore atmospheric and oceanic sciences major, said. “It will probably make people feel safer, especially since this is such a diverse campus.”
Khadijah Lopez, a senior psychology major, agreed that the increased transparency can put an end to rumors and speculation.
“It’s good to have something where people can see what’s going on and not hearsay,” she said.
Officer feedback has been positive as well, according to Redden.
“There was concern about how bulky the cameras would be, but overall everyone seems to be positive,” he said.
Stony Brook’s UPD isn’t the only department implementing body cameras. In Nassau County, the Freeport Police Department outfitted every officer with a camera in 2015, according to Newsday. The New York Police Department also began giving cameras to some 5,000 officers last October, covering about 14 percent of the force, CNBC reported.
UPD plans to have a camera for every officer, “as long as there are enough,” according to Redden.
Each camera costs upwards of $800 a piece, not including the cost of software and storage. Axon, the company providing the cameras to Stony Brook’s UPD, recently announced their initiative to increase the deployment of body cameras to police departments nationwide. The company will provide free cameras, software and file storage for up to a year, after which departments can purchase the cameras or return them.
While Stony Brook has already begun using the cameras, other police departments on Long Island have not. As of October 2016, the Suffolk County Police Department does not yet have a body camera program, despite applying for a grant in 2015 to add body cameras to its force, Newsday reported.
UPD will continue to roll out their body cameras in coming weeks, Redden said, and welcomes any feedback from the campus community.