When Interim Police Chief Howard Caviness started at Grambling in July 2014, one of his major goals was obtaining body cameras for the university’s police force. Caviness, who is used to wearing a camera due to years in undercover work in law enforcement, said recent disputes between police officers and public opinion has made getting the cameras a priority. “I’m used to having a camera on me all the time from my undercover days. I knew it was there for my protection as well as theirs (citizens). I think everyone is going to body cameras because of some overzealous police officers around the country,” he said.

With budget restraints, Caviness knew he had to look for other sources of funding that would not increase student fees. In October 2014, he received a Title 3 Grant worth $100,000 to pay for an upgraded communication system and equipment, including body cameras. Grambling’s 10 police officers began wearing the cameras in February, making GSU one of a growing number of university police departments to implement the use of body cameras.

The tiny cameras are about an inch and a half long and are worn with a lanyard and clipped to a shirt. They cost $80 each and are light, portable and wireless. The cameras also have a still photography mode, so officers can take crime scene photos for evidence. The addition of the body cameras is about protection and accountability. It holds the officers more accountable for their actions while on duty, and it gives officers and the public a clear audio and visual record of disputed events.

“I think it reminds an officer that he or she should remain professional at all times, especially with a video going at all times under their chins. It’s also about accountability. We get complaints about our officers from time to time, so now it’s not just an episode of he said/she said. You have the tools to protect yourself. It protects the students as well as the officers,” he said.

According to a November 2014 study by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, wearing body cameras serves as a preventive measure that reduces escalation during encounters between police officers and members of the public. The student response to the body cameras has been largely positive, Caviness said. The one worry has been that the body camera footage could be doctored by a police officer. This is not a concern, according to Caviness, who says officers cannot alter the footage, since they do not have access to it. Chief Caviness is the only person with access to the body camera footage.

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