National focus on USF police camera study

With recent events in Ferguson sparking public discussion of law enforcement accountability, national media is anticipating a USF study that may offer a solution. 

For the last six months, USF researchers have gathered data from Orlando police officers wearing mountable body cameras that record law enforcement interactions. 

Wesley Jennings, associate chair of the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences in Mental Health Law and Policy, said the hypothesis is that body cameras will significantly reduce the use of force by officers and the number of complaints from citizens. 

“It will lead to better policing and get retraining to police who need it,” he said. 

At the start of the study, 50 Orlando Police Department officers were randomly chosen out of a hundred to wear cameras. Throughout the yearlong study, researchers will compare the records of those with cameras and those without. Both groups will also complete surveys to voice their opinions about the cameras. 

Initially, Jennings’ team thought police officers would be hesitant to adopt the cameras, but Jennings said that has not been the case. 

“We found from the baseline survey that, by and large, the officers were open and comfortable with wearing the cameras,” he said. “They also thought their agency should issue the cameras agency-wide.” 

Officers expect the cameras not just to improve police behavior, but also citizen behavior. 

“The camera is obvious. It’s hooked on their glasses or mounted on their shoulder,” Jennings said. “Perhaps the citizens will act accordingly knowing they’re on camera.” 

If a citizen filed a complaint, the body cameras allow supervisors to review videos to see if the grievance was valid. The videos could also be used as evidence in court.

“The prosecutor’s office are looking for police to use it,” Jennings said. “They’ll have a smoking gun to either exonerate the officer or show wrongdoing.”

Though reduction in citizen complaints is expected, Jennings said there is an expected increase in internal complaints.

“Now that they review the video, supervisors may find deficiencies in training,” he said. “They review a domestic violence call and, all of a sudden, they see the officer skipped step one, two and three.”

Though the final results are still a few months away, Florida cities, such as Miami and Fort Myers, are beginning to issue cameras to their police forces.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has no current plans to equip officers, according to an article in the Tampa Tribune.

USF University Police (UP) Assistant Chief Chris Daniel said UP is “watching the landscape” to see how effective the cameras are for other agencies.