The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday May 28th

UNC police to wear body cameras

Randy Young, spokesman for the UNC Department of Public Safety, said the department first considered cameras in spring 2013. However, the idea gained traction after increased media coverage of police brutality.

“People tend to be more positive when they realize cameras are being used,” Young said. “It enhances accountability from both citizens and officers.”

In February, Matt Fajack, vice chancellor for finance and administration, approved DPS Chief Jeff McCracken’s request for $60,000 from the University to fund the body camera program.

With his background in data management, Justin Kreft, a graduate student studying public administration at the UNC School of Government, researched law enforcement agencies already equipped with body cameras in order to study the challenges of storing and retrieving data collected by the cameras.

Kreft concluded from his research that a law enforcement agency about twice the size of DPS with a three-month retention policy for all video records would have, on average, an entire data storage overhead of 6 terabytes, 9,600 files and 3,330 hours of video.

Kreft cited a qualitative response from one agency, which said that every request for edits to footage for privacy or legal reasons takes, on average, 10 times its length to have someone review it.

Kreft said measuring the impact of the data produced by the cameras requires careful attention to not only size of the data but the number of files and length of total footage.

Kreft said that these disparities will create large files that are hard to store but easy to find or smaller files that are easier to store but more difficult to find.

“There’s no comprehensive answer out there at all,” Kreft said.

“The problem is that data storage is easy to calculate but difficult to conceive.”

Kreft said these challenges and the associated costs are not always taken into consideration.

Young said that accessibility of the stored data is important, especially when considering data that may need to be stored for a considerable amount of time.

“We have to think long and hard about who has access, and why,” Kreft said.

He said increased public information requests would only increase associated costs.

Young said that the public records office will handle requests for footage, and the status of the incident’s investigation will impact what’s available to the public.

Placing body cameras on police officers is still a relatively new practice across the nation, and Young said that it’s taken a lot of careful consideration regarding equipment and policy-making decisions.

The official policy governing the use of body cameras within the department must go before the Office of University Counsel and the University administration for approval. Young said he expects the policy will be finalized within the next few weeks.

After field-testing five models, the department purchased 50 of the popular Axon Body models by a company called TASER, Young said. This model supports cloud-based storage.

Keith Whitley, a junior studying computer science and economics, said he believes the increased surveillance on campus is worth the risk of unanticipated costs.

“It’ll be another deterrent from situations escalating, and it promotes neutrality,” Whitley said.


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