Body cameras have a way of rapidly de-escalating situations, according to Chief Jeff Besong, the head of Point Park University's Department of Public Safety.
One of his officers recently approached a family in the midst of an argument on the Boulevard of the Allies, and the adult man in the group began swearing at him. As soon as the officer informed the man he was being recorded on a body camera, the profanity ceased, Besong said.
“And immediately he started using, ‘Yes sir. I apologize sir. I’m having a bad day. sir,’” Besong said. “And the four children shook our officer’s hand when the situation was over.”
Besong called it a clear case on how situations can be neutralized when there is a sense of accountability for both parties.
Point Park is the first university in Pennsylvania to mandate its sworn-in officers wear body cameras. Its force of 13 were trained this summer and began wearing the new gear August 1.
“I like them," said Lt. Nicholas Black, turning his camera on. "They're pretty small but it's nice to know we can look back at something if we need to, and as a lieutenant, I can see what the officers are doing and tell them, 'Hey, you did really good here' or say 'Next time, try this.'"
The camera footage will help in accurately documenting events and preparing for a court testimony. The university also sees benefits in training and capturing alleged police misconduct, Besong said.
Regular footage will be kept for 90 days; for any case that could be criminal or one that warrants an arrest, it will be saved for at least six months. Besong said Point Park is using a company that saves the footage to a cloud-based server, and officers have been trained to start recording when they are called to a scene.
Since officers started recording last week, he said several universities have called looking to implement similar policies.
City of Pittsburgh Police Officers wear body cameras, but the department has not yet released the policy detailing how footage will be used.