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RUPD implements body cameras

By Anita Alem     9/1/15 2:25pm

All Rice University Police Department officers must carry body-worn cameras as of April 2015, according to Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead, to align with the best practices of the U.S. Department of Justice. The use of these cameras was first piloted in summer 2014 and spring 2015, after which officers were trained for their usage.

Whitehead said RUPD has used dashboard cameras and audio/video equipment in patrol cars since 2009, to aid evidence collection for crimes such as driving while intoxicated.

“It has provided information to improve evaluation and training of officers and has helped resolve disputes between officers and citizens,” Whitehead said. “We believe body-worn cameras can serve the same purposes.”

Officers must activate the camera in cases of public contact, during car stops, arrest situations and encounters with people on the street. Police officers may choose whether or not to honor individual requests to not be recorded. Routine service calls such as key services and security escorts do not mandate recording.

In recent years, highly-publicized cases of police brutality have led to a national debate on police-citizen relations and police oversight. Body cameras have often been suggested as a method of monitoring police actions to limit misconduct and even exonerate innocent officers. According to Whitehead, there was no particular incident that caused RUPD to deploy body cameras, but this national conversation led them to research and pilot the cameras. 

Whitehead said RUPD has received positive feedback from several organizations, including the college masters and presidents, the Graduate Student Association, the Black Student Association, the Faculty Senate, General Counsel and Public Affairs.

“We have spoken with members of the Rice community and found strong support for the deployment of body cameras for our officers,” Whitehead said. “RUPD officers support the initiative.”

Whitehead said only RUPD has access to the videos but they may release a video to the District Attorney’s Office or under the Open Records Act, which gives the public access to government records. However, student-related requests may depend on the situation.

“We do not plan to routinely provide body camera video to [Student Judicial Programs] or [University Court],” Whitehead said. “Most of the cases we refer to SJP are for minor infractions and most students take responsibility for their actions. Any request from SJP or UCourt will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Will Rice College sophomore Josiah Yarbrough said he thinks the body camera may increase trust in RUPD.

“I think it’s an appropriate measure,” Yarbrough said. “I’m from St. Louis and I’ve grown up around police brutality and offenses committed by police officers and even on Rice’s campus, it may bring a lot of people assurance to see that police officers are being watched and being held accountable. I know the chief pretty well and I know he’s a good guy. I think RUPD is doing a fantastic job, but even so, body cameras can do no harm.” 

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