_CULTURE SOCIETY

Credibility, on Camera
A Drexel professor will evaluate a new body camera initiative launched by Philadelphia’s transit agency meant to reduce crime and improve officer-citizen relationships.

_Jordan Hyatt

Hyatt is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Criminology and Justice Studies.

Dominating the headlines over the past several years has been an increased demand for police accountability, the need for autonomy in law enforcement and the public’s desire for transparency.

In response, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) serving Philadelphia launched an initiative this year to equip all of its transit police officers with body cameras. This policy will seek to reduce crime, strengthen relationships with the public and provide valuable evidence for investigations.

Drexel criminology professor Jordan Hyatt has been tapped to evaluate the program’s success. The team will examine the impact of the camera program on some key measures, including crime in the system, complaints against officers and use of force. They also will study officer attitudes toward use of the body cameras and public perceptions. The first results will be presented in the fall.

Eyes_On_Officers

Philadelphia’s transit police are required to activate the cameras when they are interacting with the public and responding to calls from police radio. When recording is in progress, officers are expected to notify the individuals with whom they are speaking.

“Body-worn cameras are being used, with increasing frequency, by law enforcement agencies across the county,” Hyatt says. “The development of solid, empirical research has not kept pace. Working with the SEPTA police department, an agency committed to evidence-based policies, presents an opportunity to rigorously examine the effects of body-worn cameras on a number of important dimensions, including crime within the transit system and the nature of officer-citizen interactions.”

“We believe it gives the SEPTA Transit Police Department more credibility with the community,” says SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III. “These cameras will also greatly aide with our investigative efforts.”

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.