The process to outfit the department with 57 body cameras, which have been in use for about a month, began in 2013, when the department applied for a grant and was awarded $32,000. The funds were used to acquire seven cameras and server space to properly store all video. A pilot program began in 2014.
Funding through the university provides the ongoing annual costs of $26,000 to maintain the cameras, the editing and storage technology.
Before using the cameras on active duty, officers go through a two-hour training session that includes learning how to use the cameras and how to upload and mark video for evidence and long-term storage.
“We viewed it was a good tool to help protect your safety and to help us in our law enforcement mission here to gather evidence in the form of video,” said University Police Captain Dave Rose. “Also, there’s a benefit in terms of transparency and accountability, but it was really before the national dialogue started about (body cameras).”
The discussion around body cameras was reignited in Columbus in September, when a Columbus Division of Police officer shot and killed 13-year-old Tyre King. At the time, some Columbus residents, including OSU students, told The Lantern they wanted video evidence of the altercation to better understand what happened.
OSU’s new use of body cameras is part of a push for university police departments across the nation to adopt the technology. University police departments at Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin have been using body cameras as early as 2011, which is when the University of Iowa first implemented the cameras throughout its entire department.
University Police officer Joanna Shaul said she is a fan of the program.
“I’m a fan, personally, of the program, as I have been an early adopter for a long time,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of things that we see as police officers that cannot be explained in words. Pictures are worth a thousand words and a video is worth millions.”
Public availability of body-camera footage has been has been a gray area in various legal rulings, but University Police will treat all footage as public records. Anyone can request footage, barring ongoing investigations, and the footage can be evaluated by the department and released after the process is complete, Rose said.
Rose added that the technology is still relatively new and there are physical limitations to what the cameras can capture, but the hope is that the cameras will provide more evidence and create a transparent relationship between the department and the public.