AUSTIN (KXAN) — The chief of the University of Texas’ on campus police force said Thursday the fact his officers will start wearing body cameras is a “huge step forward” for campus safety.
The cameras will record only interactions an officer has with someone while acting in an official capacity. While they could be used to record victim or witness statements, the department said they have policies in place to protect them.
The cameras were the department’s idea, they’ve been testing out different cameras for several years. The cameras they selected are the Taser Axon model. While the UT police department has 99 uniformed officers, approximately 60 cameras will be in service at any given time.
UT Police Chief David Carter said that his department has actually been testing the new cameras for several weeks, Thursday was the first day they announced the cameras. Carter explained that officers will not need to activate their cameras during most interactions with students or faculty on campus.
Carter has been in law enforcement for 34 years, this is the first time he will be in a department with body cameras. He explained that most departments nationwide are looking into them.
“We’ve seen examples across the nation where the community had concerns about the way police acted,” Carter said. “What we believe today is that the body-worn camera system worked to our benefit, they worked to the community’s benefit.”
Carter said he can think of several instances over the past three years where body cameras could have been useful in resolving complaints against officers.
“The fact that UTPD came to the student body with the idea of implementing body cameras is a true testament to their commitment to safety and accountability,” said Kevin Helgren, UT’s Student Government president.
“We have been researching the use of cameras for quite some time and are pleased with this solution as it reinforces the importance of transparency and accountability to those we serve,” UTPD Chief David Carter said.
Recordings related to criminal investigations will be retained for one year or longer pending case specifics, and all other routine files will be retained for 90 days.
Carter added that body camera systems are not cheap, and the most expensive part of the UTPD body camera system is not the cameras, but the cloud storage. When officers start their shifts, they are asked to make sure their camera is working, and when they end their shifts they are asked to recharge their cameras. The data from the cameras will automatically download at that point.
UTPD has already been using in-car dash camera video for over a decade, Carter said that down the line the department hopes to sync the two recording systems.
“Our goal in the future here is to try and find ways to integrate the body camera system with the in car camera system so that there’s a trigger that turns on the body worn camera and the in car camera, for the officer but also for officers that are in close proximity,” Carter said.
While UTPD has outfitted its officers with cameras, the Austin Police Department is still working to finalize contracts. In March, a court injunction blocking the Austin Police Department from buying body cameras was lifted.