A New Point of View
Print Issue: July 2014
Located at one of the busiest crossroads of America, where I-75 meets I-70, Dayton, Ohio, is a vibrant city known for its history as the home of the Wright Brothers and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force—the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Nestled entirely within the Midwestern city of more than 140,000 is the University of Dayton, a top-tier Catholic research university and the largest private university in the state with almost 10,000 students and approximately 2,000 faculty and staff.
Protecting the campus, which houses almost 90 percent of the student body, are 25 full-time police department staff who patrol the area on foot and in vehicles throughout the day. These officers respond to calls and emergency situations at all hours of the day and night while also creating a face for campus security.
Over the years, while the university has advanced its educational programs, it’s also adopted a number of security features to make the urban campus safer, including stationary cameras, alarm systems, and access control systems.
However, something crucial was missing: reliable mobile cameras for the police force. With the growth of smartphones, virtually everyone on campus has a camera on their person at all times. When there’s an incident on campus and a police officer responds to a call, students are “often actively recording the officer’s activity, but the officer had no means of recording that activity,” says Randy Groesbeck, the director of administration and security for the university’s Department of Public Safety.
Most of the time not having this technology wasn’t a problem, but occasionally there would be discrepancies in how an officer reported that he acted on the scene and students’ impression of the incident. If there wasn’t visual or audio documentation of the incident, it could quickly boil down to a student’s word against an officer’s. This could lead to disciplinary actions and confusion about what really happened.
In 2013, Groesbeck began looking at technology solutions that could allow officers to easily record their interactions with the campus community. “We wanted a way to document both the video and the audio during exchanges, or interactions, between our police officers and members of the community,” he explains.
The department also wanted something that would allow video to be stored and then easily reviewed and played for court, hearings, or after-action meetings “when a question did occur about the officer’s actions, or the community member’s actions,” Groesbeck explains.
The university looked at different systems for about a year to get a general idea of what was on the market, pricing, and reviews from people who were already using similar technologies. “When we got down to brass tacks, we pretty much narrowed it down to two systems and VIEVU was one of them,” Groesbeck says. “We looked at the systems, and what we really wanted was something that was reasonably priced, that was easy to use, and that would do a good job of capturing both the audio and the video.”
After a long review process, the university decided to purchase the VIEVU PVR LE2 for all of its full-time officers. The LE2 is a small camera, measuring 3 inches tall by 2.1 inches wide, and can be worn clipped to the front of a shirt or jacket, making it convenient for law enforcement to use while out on patrol.
The camera has a four-hour recording time, four-hour battery life, 4 gigabytes of memory, and is waterproof. It uses the VERIPATROL software system to securely store and manage video files and uses an FIPS 140-2 compliant digital signature process to prove that the video hasn’t been altered. In addition, if the camera is lost or stolen, the VidLock digital rights management system prevents unauthorized users from accessing the video footage on it.
After choosing the system, Groesbeck worked with the department to create a training program to show officers how to use the camera on daily patrols and to set the standard that whenever they were interacting with a member of the campus community, the camera should be on and recording.
By setting this expectation up-front, it has become a habit for officers to use the cameras, he says. “We were just talking about that in a staff meeting this morning that once they get used to using it, it becomes second nature when they get out of the car, or when they walk up to an individual; they just about automatically now flip that switch and turn the camera on,” Groesbeck explains.
After initial training, when officers report for duty they immediately go into the department office, grab a camera from the charging station, and clip it onto their uniform. While out on patrol, they wear the camera and record any interactions they have with campus staff, faculty, and students. Then, once their patrol is over, officers return to the office, plug the camera into a computer, and download their footage.
All of the files that have been recorded are tagged with the date and time of the interaction that was recorded, and officers use that footage to make notes about why that interaction was retained. After the footage is uploaded to the computer and filed, a software manager at the station keeps track of the footage, and if it is not flagged for future use, it is automatically deleted after 60 days to keep from running up a large data file.
What made the camera especially attractive to the university is that the entire recording system is contained in one small package. All officers have to do is pick up the camera from the charging station, clip it to their shirt or jacket, and go on patrol, making it simple and easy to use, Groesbeck says.
While some might be wary of the new technology, Groesbeck says that many officers came to him before the department began using the new cameras and suggested that using such a system would be a good idea. “Once we got [the cameras] and they started using them, we really had no negative feedback,” he adds.
Equally important to the department was having the campus community onboard with the new camera equipment. As an olive branch, Groesbeck invited the student newspaper over to the department to discuss the new equipment. After going over the technology, the newspaper wrote a story about the purchase to familiarize the student body with the police force’s new policy of recording interactions, which was published two weeks after school started.
“By that time, students were used to seeing officers running around and wearing them,” Groesbeck says. “The story and the officers all coming together at the same time “led to an acceptance by the campus community.”
The LE2 cameras have also been durable, Groesbeck says, with the only issues arising from the occasional broken clip that’s used to attach the camera to officers’ chests while on patrol. “If you’re involved in an altercation, you can break the clip, but they’re relatively inexpensive and they’re easy to replace so we buy a few extra and keep them as spares,” he explains.
Officers have even gotten inventive with their own way of using the cameras to record interactions while they’re on patrol in vehicles on campus. “Officers have actually put the camera up on the visor clip, clipped to the visor of the car to document an interaction that’s occurring just outside the front of a car,” he says.
The cameras have also been especially important when documenting interactions where officers are entering a party, or facing a large group of people, Groesbeck says. “The camera’s been valuable in documenting the level of activity and the intensity of the activity within that group,” he explains. “It’s just a great way to document your interactions with community members and have a record of that so if there is some question at a later date, then you have that evidence.”
The department answers to a community review group when there is a question about an officer’s actions, and the cameras have been “valuable in documenting what the officers have done” for that review group, Groesbeck says. The new technology has also helped prove to the review group that officers are acting appropriately when they are out on call.
“What we found is that in almost every case, the camera has validated the information that’s provided to us by the officer,” Groesbeck explains. “When you get an internal investigation, often it’s he-said, she-said, but when you have this audio and video proof of what actually occurred during the interaction, it’s very valuable. And it can really go a long way towards making community members understand that the officer’s actions were appropriate.”
The cameras have let the group “see through the video and hear the audio so they understand exactly what the officer was up against, because people will come in and look like a model citizen in the light of day, but that’s not the person you dealt with the night before,” he adds.