SEPTA Transit Police officers have been equipped with body cameras, tools designed to strengthen relationships with the public, and provide valuable evidence for investigations.
“We’ve done this because we believe it gives the SEPTA Transit Police Department more credibility with the community. They’ll have more trust in us, and feel there are additional checks and balances,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III. “These cameras will also greatly aide with our investigative efforts by providing audio and visual evidence of officers’ interactions with the public and response to calls.”
The department-wide launch of the program started Jan. 1, 2016. This followed a pilot test that began in July 2014, with 15 officers field-testing cameras from several different manufacturers.
The success of the pilot program prompted SEPTA to pursue adding cameras for all officers. The SEPTA Board approved the purchase of Digital Ally First VU body-worn cameras and related accessories during its regular monthly meeting in July 2015. The overall program, including equipment costs and training, is approximately $400,000.
SEPTA has also adopted a policy for use of the body cameras. It provides guidance on when officers are required to activate the cameras, which in large part includes instances in which they are interacting with the public and responding to calls from police radio. The officer will provide verbal notice of the recording to the individuals involved. Officers will not record during breaks, while writing reports and performing administrative duties, or while having general conversations that are not related to an active incident. The policy also sets rules for the downloading and preservation of video.
This initiative enhances SEPTA’s overall video coverage of the transit system, which currently includes over 18,000 surveillance cameras at stations and on trains, buses and trolleys.
“These technologies have played a big role in efforts to make SEPTA safer, and to help our customers feel more secure while they’re riding,” Nestel said. “It also serves as warning to those who might be thinking about misbehaving – if you commit a crime on SEPTA, we’re most likely going to have it on video, and we’re going to catch you.”