Body-Worn Camera Program
All Penn State police officers are outfitted with body-worn cameras. Equipping every officer with body-worn cameras enables University Police and Public Safety to continue its mission of transparency and accountability as part of its ongoing efforts to build a stronger relationship with the Penn State communities it serves.
Body-worn cameras have been tied to increased accountability and give police and citizens another tool that contributes to better policing. Body-worn cameras are not a solution on their own but can be used as a promising approach to improve interactions within communities if appropriate policy safeguards and training are in place for their use.
In 2017, UPPS began a comprehensive five-year centralization process, which involved merging police and security units at 22 campuses into one department. This included restructuring the organization and a comprehensive look at major investments, like expanding personnel and purchasing essential equipment for Penn State police officers across Pennsylvania. The centralization process also emphasizes uniformity in policy and protocols across the state for all Penn State policing operations.
As part of the centralization plan, UPPS researched body-worn camera technology and its requirements, along with other tools for all 22 campuses.
Following the conclusion of the research phase, UPPS requested funding from the University for body-worn cameras for roughly 150 police officers and related funding for video data storage, training and operations as part of its 2020-2021 budget. In 2021, all officers received training on how to properly wear and use the cameras. Officers began wearing body-worn cameras on May 17, 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT ARE BODY-WORN CAMERAS?
As defined by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, body-worn cameras (BWC) are small cameras that capture audio and video and typically face forward on an officer’s chest, glasses, or headwear. Recordings from body-worn cameras can document police-public contacts, including statements, behaviors, movements, and other circumstances of an incident that can later be used as evidence in a criminal or administrative investigation. Body-worn camera programs also have been implemented by some departments as a potential deterrent for unprofessional and inappropriate behaviors by both officers and the public.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A BODY-WORN CAMERA?
All Penn State police officers are outfitted with body-worn cameras. Equipping every officer with body-worn cameras enables University Police and Public Safety to be more transparent and accountable as part of its ongoing efforts to build a stronger relationship with the Penn State communities it serves.
Body-worn cameras have been tied to increased accountability and give police and citizens another tool that contributes to better policing. Body-worn cameras should not be considered a solution on their own but can be used as a promising approach to improve interactions within communities if appropriate policy safeguards and training are in place for their use.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF A BODY-WORN CAMERA?
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have the potential to capture an incident; however, they cannot capture everything. They have a limited range of view, and their visibility depends on available lighting and weather conditions. BWCs capture different details depending on where they are worn on the officer’s body and the direction the officer is facing. That means some context or details of an incident may be out of a camera’s view. Additionally, agency policies and state and federal laws and guidelines determine when officers should turn their cameras on or off.
WHO WILL BE EQUIPPED WITH BODY-WORN CAMERAS AND AT WHAT PENN STATE CAMPUSES?
All sworn police officers within UPPS are equipped with a body-worn camera (BWC). When UPPS adopted BWCs in May 2021, the department provided police services at the following Penn State campuses:
Erie, The Behrend Campus
Fayette, The Eberly Campus
WHAT KIND OF TRAINING DO OFFICERS UNDERGO BEFORE USING BODY-WORN CAMERAS?
All employees equipped with body-worn cameras (BWC) complete four hours of initial training, which includes policy review, how to properly operate the camera to include functionality, an overview of relevant state laws with topics relating to BWC and privacy considerations. Officers also receive annual refresher training along with training related to de-escalation, use of force, and more.
WHEN ARE OFFICERS REQUIRED TO RECORD VIDEO?
Video obtained by body-worn camera (BWC) will be used for gathering recorded evidence for applicable court proceedings. The use of video equipment may also serve as a training aid, investigative tool for resolution of citizen complaints against officers, quality assessment of officer-citizen contacts, and officer and citizen safety.
BWCs will typically be used:
- At the initiation of a call for service, or other activity, that is investigative or enforcement in nature.
- During an encounter between the officer and a member of the public that is investigative or involves an enforcement action.
WILL OFFICERS TELL CIVILIANS WHEN A CAMERA IS RECORDING?
UPPS policy requires officers to conduct proper identification as a law enforcement officer when utilizing body-worn camera (BWC) equipment and must inform all individuals identifiably present, as soon as reasonably practicable, that a BWC is being used to record the encounter or incident.
If officers are unable to begin recording with the BWC due to circumstances making it unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so, officers should begin recording with the BWC at the first reasonable opportunity to do so.
HOW LONG WILL UPPS STORE VIDEO FOOTAGE?
Body-worn camera recordings will be retained for at least 180 days. After the 180-day retention period, recordings not categorized for retention will be deleted. This timeframe exceeds the recommendations from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which states an agency should retain and store BWC footage for a minimum of 60 days.
Retention and dissemination of video will be managed in accordance with:
- UPPS Policy: Release of Law Enforcement Records
- UPPS Policy: Body-worn camera policy
- Penn State Policy: University Archives and Records Management
- Penn State Law: Pennsylvania Act 22
WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT’S POLICY ON BODY-WORN CAMERAS?
WHEN DOES UPPS RELEASE BODY-WORN FOOTAGE AND HOW CAN MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC, INCLUDING NEWS MEDIA, REQUEST VIDEO FOOTAGE?
The Police Records Unit within University Police and Public Safety (UPPS) will handle public requests for audio/video recording in accordance with Pennsylvania law, Act 22, and UPPS policy and when responding to requests for body-worn camera (BWC) footage. Learn more.