UNFPD implements body cameras, mixed feelings all around

Cassidy Alexander

Video by Michael Herrera and Cassidy Alexander
 

UNFPD began using body cameras on May 1 as part of a pilot program that will be reevaluated in about a year, according to UNF Police Chief Frank Mackesy.

Mackesy said UNFPD received the wearable video recorders in November of last year, and waited to implement them until officers were properly trained and a comprehensive policy was in place.

“I did a lot of research on the policy,” Mackesy said. “I was brand new here, and I was literally drinking through a firehose. It was a prioritization of getting things done, and I, you know, got it done as quick as I could.”

Now that the cameras are in place, Mackesy said there are two to three cameras in the field daily. Officers pick up a camera at the beginning of their shift and place on their shoulder to record events when they turn them on. At the end of the shift, the cameras are placed back on the charger and the footage that was recorded is stored online.

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Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

According to UNFPD’s operational order, the cameras will be activated during physical arrests, emergency runs, traffic stops, disturbance calls, domestic or dating violence calls, major crime scenes, skateboard and bicycle interactions or deployments, drug and alcohol investigations and any other time an officer feels that a video documentation will be beneficial to the officer, a citizen or the university.

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Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

If the officer enters a place where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a dorm or a private office, the individual can decline to be recorded. Officers themselves can refuse to turn the camera off depending on the circumstances of the case.

The footage will be stored for at least 90 days, according to UNFPD’s policy. After that, unless UNFPD knows that the footage is or will be part of an investigation, it is likely to be destroyed to preserve storage space, Mackesy said.

Mackesy further explained that only command staff and the custodian of records have access to the footage. Officers have no access to the recordings except to review them as part of an investigation, in response to public disclosure requests, or for training purposes.

Since the cameras have been in operation, Mackesy said the only requests to see footage have been from the media looking to illustrate stories about body cameras.

Campus police officers at the University of Central Florida and Florida State University use body cameras.

UNFPD paid approximately $8,000 for six cameras, according to Mackesy.

Mackesy said the body cameras aren’t always reliable, and some officers have had some problems with the devices. The cameras have died unexpectedly, officers have forgotten to turn them on, and cameras have been pointed at the sky instead of at what was happening.

“I think the body cameras don’t always tell the whole story,” Mackesy said. “For instance, there’s something like 40 television cameras at every nationally televised NFL football game, and they still don’t have conclusive evidence as to whether or not a touchdown is a touchdown. So I’m not sure one single camera is going to be sufficient to paint the whole story.”

The body cameras also pose ethical questions.

“[The cameras can be] an erosion of the civil liberties of the people that we’re videotaping,” Mackesy said.

Some students disagree.

Alex Lassen, communications junior, said that body cameras for law enforcement are a bigger help than harm to the community.

“They are more likely to take protocol and be safe if they have cameras watching them,” Lassen said.

Monty Stobb, sports management sophomore, said that he’s always trusted the police, with or without the cameras, but thinks they have merit

“Rather than not having anything at all and just going off of word from a situation, it’s better to have actual evidence,” Stobb said.

Nishank Patel, international business sophomore, said he doesn’t know if UNFPD needs body cameras.

“It’s kind of a university police, it’s not really like everyday crime police, so they’re not really dealing with most of the crimes that would need a body camera I think,” Patel said. He said violent and aggressive crimes could need a body camera.

“There’s something to be said about earning and keeping the trust of the students, the faculty and staff that we serve here, and that is one of the things that weighs heavily on my mind about this,” Mackesy said.

UNFPD will test the cameras over a 12-18 month period to see if they are applicable to the campus.

CORRECTION: an older version of this story stated Alex Lassen’s first name as “Taylor.”

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