University of Utah Police are now using body-worn cameras to promote accountability, increase public trust, provide supportive documentation for complaints, investigations and prosecutions and improve training opportunities.
“We want to be transparent in all our dealings with the community on campus, and the body-worn cameras are going to be a major part of that,” said Jason Hinojosa, acting chief of the University of Utah Police. “Whenever there is an interaction—such as a traffic stop, dealing with suspects or talking with a pedestrian in response to a crime—then a camera would be used.”
Guidelines surrounding the use of body-worn cameras comply with standards established by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The U is working toward becoming accredited through CALEA, as well as the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA).
A new interim rule, R1-011A, provides guidelines for the University Police body-worn camera program that are not covered by Policy 3-234 regarding building access and fixed surveillance cameras. The interim rule allows University Police to begin using the new technology immediately while the permanent rule continues to be reviewed and formalized through the university’s established processes. Interim President Michael Good signed the interim rule on July 16, 2021, and the University Police Department started deploying the body-worn cameras after the officers received appropriate training.
“A new rule was required because the body-worn cameras can record audio, which is specifically not permitted under policy 3-234,” said Leslie Francis, a law professor and member of the Surveillance System Administrator Committee (SSAC). “Additionally, these new cameras will be used for law enforcement purposes and are exempt from Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws.”
Benefits of using body-worn cameras
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the use of body-worn cameras has become an industry standard in the police field. In 2015, researchers at the University of Cambridge suggested that the implementation of body-worn cameras decreases use-of-force incidents by the police. This finding was supported by the Rialto Police Department in California. After body cameras were introduced on about 70 officers, use of force incidents were reduced by 60% and complaints against officers were reduced by 88%.
Because cameras may be recording whenever there is a contact or action with a police officer on campus, the community might have questions about their privacy.
“We want to clarify that officers will not be recording citizen contacts, such as special events or a community outreach activity,” said Hinojosa. “Body-worn cameras will be utilized primarily to document incident responses, and recordings will be stored in a secured, cloud-based system. Only the officer who recorded the footage and their supervisors will be able to view the recordings, and a record of all viewings will be kept.”
All the footage is stored on evidence.com, a portal with unlimited storage for police officers to upload their videos. Officers can only watch their own videos, and the software does not allow them to edit or delete files. The footage can only be shared if requested under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) and approved by the U’s Office of General Counsel. Other university uses of the footage (such as for OEO/AA or Title IX investigations, student conduct matters, etc.) must be approved by SSAC, in accordance with policy 3-234.
If recordings need to be shared with another law enforcement agency or the District Attorney for an investigation or prosecution, the footage can be provided through a secure link within the portal. Videos of active investigations will not be shared.
Engaging the U community
University Safety reviewed the interim rule with several entities on campus, including the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC); the Surveillance System Administrator Committee (SSAC); the University of Utah Staff Council; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) center directors; the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU); and the Academic Senate Executive Committee, which is comprised of 12 faculty members and three student members. This fall, the interim rule will be sent to the Academic Senate in full for review, before being adopted as a permanent rule.
“In the interest of transparency and trust-building, it is important to have many involved in the safety decision-making of the campus," said Keith Squires, interim chief safety officer. “We need feedback from our community and those who are interacting with police officers on campus. The more input we have from our community, the better.”
Once reviewed by the Academic Senate, the goal is to have the interim rule adopted as a permanent rule, attached to policy 1-011 in the University Regulations Library. In accordance with CALEA accreditation standards, these written directives and rules must be reviewed annually, and any feedback or information learned during the utilization of the body-worn cameras could be incorporated into future revisions of the rule. Partners on campus who want to collaborate and have additional input regarding the body-worn camera program are welcome to send their thoughts to University Safety at firstname.lastname@example.org.