UT police to begin using body cameras

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Photo Credit: Emmanuel Briseño | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Police Department implemented portable body cameras late last month in an effort to build trust between UT police officers and the campus community, the University announced Thursday.

In a five-year, $450,000 contract with Axon, a public safety technology company formerly known as Taser International, UTPD purchased nearly 80 clip-on body cameras for its officers. Officers will activate the camera only when interacting with individuals in an official capacity, such as responding to a call, making an arrest or writing a ticket. 

“This is something we believe is important to the UT community and to UTPD,” UTPD Chief David Carter said. “This is something to ensure that people have confidence and trust when it comes to our department.”

The main expense of the body cameras stems from the evidence and data storage capabilities, both of which will be managed with a cloud storage system through Axon, Carter said. 

“The camera itself is insignificant in terms of cost compared to the other things that you have to buy as a police officer on duty,” Carter said. “The cost and the difficulty is about managing that information and ensuring that information is secure and will withstand the scrutiny of a court in the case that we need to use it for evidence.”

When an officer activates their Axon body camera, the video is automatically stamped with the time and date of the incident and cannot be altered. The recordings will be downloaded and sent to a secure storage server, where routine files will be retained for 90 days and files related to criminal investigations will be kept for one year or longer, according to a UT press release. 

Additionally, UTPD supervisors will conduct random audits of the footage recorded by the body cameras to ensure officers are following department guidelines. 

“I inherently trust my officers, but at the same time, we want to ensure that we’re doing the right thing,” Carter said. “There’s an opportunity to recognize that you may not have violated policy, but there could have been a better way to communicate, things like that. There’s an opportunity to see if there’s a better way that we can handle an issue.”

UTPD began testing different versions of body cameras two years ago, but the implementation of the technology took many years to complete, Carter said. The storage of information, individual privacy and cost of the technology previously presented issues for the department. It wasn’t until last year that UTPD was able to secure funding for the contract with Axon. 

UTPD officers were gearing up to train with the new equipment last December when Carter presented the idea for the body cameras to Student Government in an effort to increase transparency and inform the community of the direction the department was heading. 

“The fact that UTPD came to the student body with the idea of implementing body cameras is a true testament to their commitment to safety and accountability,” former Student Body President Kevin Helgren, neuroscience and psychology senior, said in a statement. “Our police officers have one job — to keep students safe so that we can go out there and change the world. Body cameras will allow them to do exactly that in a fair, ethical and meaningful way.”