Dustin Steinhoff, Staff Writer
Police officers in the University of Missouri-St. Louis Police Department could begin wearing body cameras as soon as this summer.
The UMSL Police Department and nine other local area police departments came together to participate in a Department of Justice grant that will provide body cameras, docking stations and one year of data storage and retention. If the Department of Justice continues reviewing the project at its current pace, the UMSL Police Department expects the body camera system to be up and running in August. UMSL is the only university in the University of Missouri system to have not yet implemented the use of body cameras in their police department.
The body cameras, docking stations, and one year of data storage and retention will not cost UMSL anything because of the grant. However, after the one free year of storage, UMSL will have to pay for the storage service itself. The storing of footage is important because it allows the UMSL Police Department to keep the archived footage from the cameras. After the body cameras are put onto docking stations after an officer’s shift, the data is downloaded into a secure storage area. If the video footage becomes evidence, it can be retrieved from the database.
While body cameras are usually associated with capturing police and citizen interactions on camera and each party responsible for their actions, the UMSL Police Department does not seem to have those problems. During UMSL Police Chief Daniel Freet’s five years serving in the UMSL Police Department, there have been no instances of police having to resort to using force in a situation. The last time force had to be used on an UMSL student was about seven years ago, during a domestic situation that turned into a physical altercation. Because UMSL does not have a history with use of police force, Chief Freet sees body cameras primarily as a way to strengthen the trust between the UMSL Police Department and the students and faculty.
“Usually the general public sees this topic [of body cameras] when police have used force of some kind,” Chief Freet said. “The whole point behind body cameras is public trust. The mere fact that I have it on my body, turn it on, and I am engaged in police activity shows we as a police department do not have anything to hide. What we are doing is public.”
However, while the occasion of needing the body camera footage may not happen very often on the UMSL campus, Chief Freet wants to be prepared for when the day comes where it might be needed.
“A miniscule number [of police calls] involve using any kind of force and an even smaller number result in any kind of deadly force,” Chief Freet said. “We know there are a lot of things going right, but when someone feels that something has gone wrong, and if that officer has done something wrong, you build public trust by quickly saying, ‘That is a problem and we are going to fix it.’”
Body cameras are also useful in preventing citizens interacting with police from acting rashly or out of anger. When people are interacting with police and are aware that they are being recorded, they tend to act better, further lowering the need for police to use force.
“Studies have shown that when cameras are rolling, both the police and the public behave better. There is less escalation on both sides,” Chief Freet said.
Chief Freet stresses that while body cameras have many uses and provide solutions for many situations, body cameras are not perfect a perfect solution to police conduct matters. In addition to the cost of data storage, body cameras (like all technology) can malfunction, they can be obscured during an altercation by mistake, and the department must actively ensure their camera usage policy is being adhered to.
Despite those drawbacks, Chief Freet believes the advantages of having UMSL police officers wear body cameras outweighs the disadvantages. With this new body camera initiative, Chief Freet and the UMSL Police Department hope to increase transparency and build more trust with the citizens they are protecting.