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 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 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 professor Leslie Francis, 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.”
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 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 Acting Chief 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 email@example.com.
What do the body-worn cameras look like?
The body-worn cameras are small black devices that have a 12-hour battery life, an activation button and two microphones attached to them. The device is weatherproof and has LTE built into it, which provides GPS location services.
Who wears the cameras, and where are the cameras located?
University Police officers and investigators will wear the cameras as part of their uniform. Sergeants and lieutenants may use them when in uniform and at special events, like football games and concerts. It is important to note, however, that body-worn cameras will not be on during these types of events unless an incident occurs that requires police response.
The cameras are worn as part of the officer’s uniform, and they are located in the middle of the chest.
Do the cameras record audio?
Yes, the body-worn cameras record audio and video. After an officer activates the camera, the device records the previous 30 seconds with no audio and then audio and video from that point forward.
When will officers be recording with their body-worn cameras?
Police officers will activate their body-worn cameras when responding to calls for service or having public interactions regarding a law enforcement investigation or a possible criminal activity.
Can officers record with another device other than their body-worn cameras?
Interim rule R1-011A allows officers to utilize their department-issued iPhone as a recording device. Personal phones are not permitted to be used for recording.
For example, an officer may need to use their phone as a recording device if they are on their way home after a shift and need to do a traffic stop on the freeway. Police officers can also use their department-issued iPhones to take crime scene photos. Recordings and images on these devices are treated as body-worn-camera footage and are uploaded to a case file in the same cloud storage portal.
How can members of the public know if they are being recorded?
The cameras are visible on the officer and show a blinking light on the top of the device when recording. If an officer is taking law enforcement action and is wearing a video camera, assume the body-worn camera is activated and is recording. If members of the public have questions, please feel free to ask the officer if the camera is activated.
Are there places where officers cannot use their body cameras?
Officers will not record in places where there is an expectation of privacy, such as restrooms, locker rooms and medical patient care areas unless there is reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed or the recording of the location is material to an investigation.
If recordings are made in medical spaces, such as the University Hospital and clinics, any public health information will be redacted from the camera’s video if the footage needs to be released for any reason.
Officers also can use their discretion to stop recordings when speaking with a victim of a sexual offense. For example, if a police officer is conducting a lethality assessment and believes that deactivation of the camera will encourage complete and accurate information sharing by the victim or it is otherwise necessary to protect the victim's identity, they may do so.
How will video be stored and for how long?
Files recorded will be uploaded to the portal evidence.com. All recordings are kept for a minimum of 90 days and may be kept for several years, depending on the type of incident.
Why is the U implementing this technology now?
Although municipal agencies have used body-worn cameras for years, they are becoming more common on campuses nationwide. For example, Princeton University police began to wear body cameras in March 2021, Penn State police officers were equipped with body-worn cameras in May 2021, and the Western Washington University started a pilot program with body-worn cameras in June 2021.
Are the officers getting special training before deploying the cameras?
Yes, before deploying the body-worn cameras, all officers and command staff were trained under Axon guidelines — the manufacturer of the cameras. Officers learned about the body-worn camera operating functions, the app (to upload photos from mobile devices) and how to use and navigate evidence.com. Officers were also trained on the interim rule and expected to adhere to it.
Who will review these videos?
Recordings will be reviewed regularly for quality assurance purposes regarding interactions with the public. Officers have access only to their own footage, with no capability to edit, redact or delete. Supervisors (sergeants) have access to their officers' footage, and they are required to review footage, do spot checks to make sure things are being handled appropriately and make sure the equipment is working properly. The command staff (lieutenants and above) will have access to all footage. Because of the way the data is stored, no one will have access to edit or delete any videos.
Will recordings be used for officer disciplinary purposes?
Recordings may be used for disciplinary purposes. However, discipline is not the primary purpose of deploying body-worn cameras. If any officer performance is recorded on camera that violates Utah law or department written directives, officers will be accountable for their actions.
Can an officer download a video to a personal device? How will the department prevent this?
It is not possible to download the footage from the cameras or the storage portal to another device. If an officer attempts to record the screen of the computer with a personal device, they will be accountable under the University Police Department’s written directives.
Can the media or any third-party obtain a copy of a body-worn camera video from University Police?
If there is no active investigation, footage may be released if it is requested under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), does not contain material otherwise protected under GRAMA, and is approved by University of Utah Office of General Counsel.
Can the public see the contract between the U and Axon?
The purchase was made through a state contract and is available here.