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The Carletonian

Security’s new body cam system, explained

On November 5th, after almost two years of review, Security Services announced that all officers would begin wearing body cameras as they patrolled campus.

“The body camera program helps Security Services add an additional level of transparency, promote accountability, add a tool that may de-escalate situations, and add a training tool,” read the announcement in the Carleton Weekly, “Generally, there is a growing expectation in society that public safety providers use this tool.”

“We’re excited about this program because it expands our technology,” said Director of Security John Bermel, “Adding body cameras doesn’t represent a big change in our practices. We enjoy our position on this campus as a resource rather than an enforcement arm, and the body cameras are a technology addition that brings us in line with best practices.”

The College Security Services website includes detailed information about the nuts and bolts of this policy, including a YouTube video answering some basic FAQs, and a five page document detailing the procedures officers will have to follow.

Given the communication concerns raised by the Carleton Student Association (CSA) regarding the announcement of the body cameras, many students may be in the dark about important details of the policy

When will officers be recording?

A security officer is required to initiate recording in the event that they or another security officer encounters “suspicious circumstances, call for service, search, adversarial contact, or other activities likely to yield information of evidentiary value” according to the system use procedures.

They are also required to record if they are dealing with an individual they believe is experiencing a mental health crisis, or to document an event that has value in determining an individual’s ability to care for themselves.

Security officers must continue recording until the conclusion of the incident, and are barred from intentionally blocking the camera or muting the microphone. According to the system use procedures, officers are allowed to “temporarily mute the system microphone to have a brief private conversation with other officers about the encounter or incident at hand.”

How will you know if the camera is recording?

Security officers do not have an affirmative duty to inform anyone that they are recording. However, if asked whether they are recording, they have an obligation to answer honestly. Each camera has a red light indicating that it is recording. However, security officers “have the ability to override this feature when necessary to reduce visibility to prevent detection” according to the System Use Procedure. If an officer does override the light, they are required to provide a written report stating the reason why. Even if the light is off, they are still required to answer if they are recording.

Can I ask an officer to be recorded?

Yes. Outside of the circumstances described above they have discretion as to whether to record or not, but security officers are required to initiate recording if requested.

What happens to recorded footage?

Footage taken from body-worn cameras is treated the same way footage taken from building surveillance cameras currently is.

Footage will be stored on the college’s data storage server for no more than 90 days, unless, according to the Surveillance Camera Guidelines section of the Campus Handbook, “such images have historical value, or are being used for a criminal and/or judicial investigation in accordance with this policy.”

However, Director of Security John Bermel noted that while the policy allows for 90-day storage, in actuality surveillance footage from both body and building cameras is deleted from the servers after 30 days.

Can I be disciplined by the College for something I’m caught doing on a body camera?

Short answer, yes. If a student is caught on camera committing a punishable offense (i.e. underage drinking), that footage can be forwarded to the Director of Community Standards and taken into account when determining what disciplinary action is appropriate.

“We use technology to help identify people,” Bermel said. “Our building system is one piece of that, card access can be a piece of that. But we’ve been successful in identifying people for a long time, and the body cam system really is not going to impact our ability to do that. I don’t want people to get the impression that the technology we use makes the case. That’s a very small part of reporting people’s behavior and conduct.”

Can I face legal repercussions for something I’m caught doing on a body camera?

“We only release things related to an ongoing investigation when a law enforcement agency requests it. I don’t want people thinking that any time we get the information we call the police and report it.” Bermel said. “We only contact the police for student conduct if the student who is the victim requests it or if it’s so egregious that we are required to report as mandated reporters.”

However, Bermel stressed that those occasions are exceedingly rare, and almost always involve a theft or crime from the Northfield community, not just within the Carleton campus.

“A lot of people don’t realize the full span of the work that we do and that only a small sliver of that is dealing with students,” Bermel said. “A significant amount of the work that we do deals with people from the Northfield community and beyond. It is extremely rare that a student discipline contact would rise to the level of police involvement. Extremely rare. We try to address most things within the college’s disciplinary process.”

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