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Chief: York City schools' body-cam rollout going smoothly
Six months after body cameras were implemented by the York City School District Police Department, the head of the force says its use has benefited the district.
“No big shocks or surprises with them,” Chief Michael Muldrow said.
The district announced it would implement officer-worn body cameras at the start of 2017, but it delayed the program’s start date until it adopted a policy regarding its use, which it finalized last May.
Since then, all on-duty police officers have been using body cameras, and the transition has been an easy one because cameras are already widely used in buildings across the district.
Muldrow said that in the nearly 10 years he has worked in the school district, surveillance at William Penn Senior High School alone has increased from about 60 cameras to more than 175.
The district received nearly $20,000 for equipment purchases during the 2016-17 school year from the Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools.
The district used the funds to purchase 14 body cameras for its force, Muldrow has said.
School officials have said officers would be equipped with body cameras to keep both students and police officers accountable in high-risk or criminal situations such as disorderly conduct and drug possession cases.
Hanging the 2-by-3-inch cameras on officers' collars took a little getting used to, but otherwise, the program has been working as intended, Muldrow said.
‘Psychological effect’: The body cameras, sold by a British company, include a small display on the front panel that shows what the camera is capturing. The display also includes a time stamp, a battery level indicator and the amount of time recorded on the device.
While the device is always on, recording is only triggered when the officer pulls down a red lever on the side of the camera.
Muldrow said the display mirroring what the camera is viewing has served as a morality enforcer of sorts.
“One of its perks is having a psychological effect on the people that it's capturing, because it’s like, ‘Whoa, I can see my conduct, I know exactly what’s being caught on tape (and) I know what I look like on the other end of that camera,’” he said.
Teachers appreciate the “extra set of eyes” with body-cam use, and most students have come to tolerate it, Muldrow said.
“Do kids like their vitamins? Do they like their vegetables? Saying kids like the cameras would be a stretch,” he said.
Checks and balances: One of the reasons Muldrow said body-cam use has gone smoothly is the extra time the district took to craft a thorough and effective policy.
According to the police department’s body camera policy, which is publicly available on the district’s website, officers have ongoing training on the cameras' use, and they must announce when a recording is activated. No audio is recorded by the devices.
No individual person can delete video recorded on the body cameras, although the officer who made the recording can submit an emailed request for the video to be deleted if the recording “is of no investigative or evidentiary value.”
Upon receipt of each request, Muldrow and district Superintendent Eric Holmes must each review and sign off on a file for its deletion.
In cases regarding police misconduct, Muldrow, Holmes and district Director of Human Resources Robert Bernhard must review files involving the incidents to decide whether to initiate a non-criminal investigation or contact “applicable outside agencies” for criminal matters.
“We all have to personally sign off on the video to delete it. Otherwise, it’s there,” Muldrow said.
Video is kept on file for 10 years, according to Muldrow.
So far, no requests have been made to delete body-cam footage, according to an acting district spokeswoman.
Overall, Muldrow said the program has been successful and is here to stay.
“Body cameras work; the research is undeniable,” he said.
“As an officer accountability tool, it may not be the end-all be-all ... but they work.”
Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EducationYD.