The police force on Ohio State’s campus is testing out new technology that some students say will benefit the university, and at least one study has shown it can help decrease officers using force.
University Police launched a body-worn camera pilot program for its officers in September. The program is meant to be another resource for evidence collecion, said OSU Administration and Planning spokesman Dan Hedman in an email.
The initial purchase of body-worn cameras was funded by a 2013 Justice Assistance Grant subgrant, Hedman said.
“Since the initial JAG grant, the Division received two additional cameras from an Ohio Department of Public Safety traffic safety grant award,” Hedman added.
Hedman said there are seven body-worn cameras being used by police on OSU’s campus.
The first-year cost of the devices and video storage was $5,893. Any additional costs that extend beyond the $6,300 grants are set to be covered by the University Police’s general fund budget.
“OSU PD pays for two administrator accounts through a company called TASER, which handles video storage and software maintenance,” Hedman said. “These accounts are $300 (each), per year.”
The use of body-worn cameras at OSU does have some obstacles, though. According to University Police Special Order 14-09, which provides officers with instructions on when and how to use body-worn cameras, it is prohibited to use the cameras near any patient care areas, which includes areas where patient care is occurring and could be captured, in locker rooms or bathrooms or in encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants.
Morgan Johnson, a third-year in public affairs, said she thinks body-worn cameras are going to have positive effects on the university community.
“There have been a lot of issues that have gotten media attention with police interactions with citizens,” Johnson said. “I want to see (the university) get involved in something that would impact that situation positively and maybe help find some common ground.”
Johnson launched a petition on Change.org on Dec. 16 with the intent of using University Police’s body-worn cameras as a research model for other universities.
“I wanted to get empirical data as far as the effects of having the body cameras, and how the interactions changed with the camera usage,” Johnson said. “I wanted us to serve as a model as one of the first schools to get involved with this.”
There has been limited research done regarding the use of body-worn cameras by police officers, but according to a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice study that included data collected in 2012 from the Rialto, Calif., Police Department, there was a 60 percent reduction in officer use-of-force incidents and an 88 percent reduction of citizen complaints.
Vikas Munjal, a first-year in public health, said he thinks the addition of body cameras will be beneficial to students, and added that recent interactions between OSU students and City of Columbus police officers reinforce the need for video documentation of events.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 13 after the OSU football National Championship victory over Oregon, Columbus Division of Police dispersed tear gas and pepper spray into crowds during the celebration. Munjal said he and some friends were pepper-sprayed while trying to cross High Street.
Columbus Police launched a investigation into the use of the tear gas and pepper spray, and Munjal said he thinks if the University Police had been wearing cameras, they might have been able to capture footage that could have been useful for this review process.
“I think if body cameras were being used, we would have a clearer picture of what happened,” Munjal said. “I don’t blame Columbus Police, I’m sure they had their reasons for doing what they did, but I saw videos of students getting pepper-sprayed who were just standing on the sidewalk. I think the cameras would provide accountability for situations like this.”
Timothy Villari, a first-year in political science, said the body-worn cameras could prove to be a useful tool to showcase the positive work of the police force.
“Had Columbus Police been wearing body cameras after the National Championship game, I think they would have video evidence that what they did after the game was justified,“ Villari said.