Ithaca College Public Safety to Begin Using Body Cameras

The Ithaca College Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management will become the latest law enforcement agency to use body cameras to record interactions with the public. All “sworn” personnel in Public Safety — patrol officers and command officers who perform law enforcement duties — will wear the cameras while on duty once the program goes into effect later this month.

The decision to institute a body-worn camera program was first announced in the fall of 2015 as one component of a series of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Its implementation follows months of discussion, policy drafting and review, and training of officers in the use of the cameras.

Patrol officer Jennilee Valentin demonstrates the body camera for the Rev. Carsten Martensen, Catholic chaplain.

Before being finalized, the draft policy and guidelines were reviewed by the Residential Life/Public Safety Workgroup and by Public Safety personnel.

Bill Kerry, director and chief of the Office of Public Safety, says the intent of the program is to help increase trust, transparency and accountability.

“It helps hold our officers — as well as those who are having interactions with our officers — more accountable, with the outcome being a safer campus community,” says Kerry.

The experience nationwide has been that the use of body cameras results in fewer use-of-force incidents by police and fewer citizen complaints against police, according to Kerry. He notes that this is just one of the approaches Pubic Safety is taking to increase and improve engagement, pointing to the recently opened satellite office in the Campus Center as another way his officers are helping build relationships with the rest of the campus community.

Two open forums were held to introduce the body-worn camera program and give members of the campus community the opportunity to ask questions.

Anyone who wants to have a closer look and try out a body-worn camera can do so by stopping by the Public Safety satellite office, located near the Campus Center Information Desk, any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday–Friday, through the end of the semester.

Kerry encourages students, faculty and staff who want to know more about the program to reach out to Public Safety.

“The more people know about the intent and use of the cameras, and the more they know about how the program works, the more comfortable they will be with it when they see the cameras deployed,” says Kerry.

The Axon Body 2 camera, about the size of a cell phone, clips on to the front of an officer's uniform. The guidelines call for officers to record during all enforcement-related activities. Only in certain circumstances can recording be halted, such as in the interests of safety or de-escalation, or when personal privacy concerns may be at issue, such as when encountering victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse. Once taken, video and audio cannot be altered or deleted prior to being uploaded.

The complete body-worn camera guidelines are posted on the Office of Public Safety website.

Each officer will be assigned an individual camera. At the end of a shift, the officer will place the camera in a docking station, which uploads all the captured video to a secure, cloud-based system. Whenever footage is accessed, an identifiable log entry is created in the file management software.

Evidence Sync software will manage the uploaded recordings.

Access to the footage will generally be limited to authorized individuals in the Office of Public Safety. The college will balance the public’s right to information with the integrity of any criminal investigation or prosecution on a case-by-case basis when considering any request for public disclosure, subject as well to any restrictions under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or other applicable laws.

Each video will be categorized based on the nature of the incident recorded, and the recording will be retained according to a schedule ranging from 6 months to permanently, depending on the seriousness of the incident.

Kerry says that the video will also be valuable as a training tool.

“Like a sports team uses video to help critique and improve its play, we will be able to review footage and learn from it. We hold ourselves to high standards, and this can help ensure that we are meeting those standards.”

Kerry says that the guidelines are based on model policies and best practices as established by several widely recognized authorities, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The college has consulted with the Ithaca Police Department and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, both of which have implemented body-worn cameras, as well as with the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office, to ensure as much local consistency as possible in the application of this technology.

He cautions that a recording cannot tell the whole story of any interaction — the camera won’t capture everything that takes place, nor can it measure emotions or perceptions or the experiences an individual brings to a situation — so the human element will always be present and must be taken into account.

“Our goal is, above all else, to increase the safety of our officers, our community members, and campus visitors,” says Kerry. “This is one tool that helps us accomplish that.”

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Patrol officer Jennilee Valentin demonstrates the body camera for the Rev. Carsten Martensen, Catholic chaplain.