Two years ago, a panel recommended that Yale Police Department officers wear body cameras after Tahj Blow ’16 was detained on Cross Campus by a Yale police officer with a gun after the officer mistook Blow for a robber.
That recommendation was adopted half a year ago and the resulting policy has been running smoothly.
According to Janet Lindner, Yale’s deputy vice president for human resources and administration, all YPD officers have been using body cameras since August, after a successful pilot program in which supervisors used the equipment. The university is funding the cost of the cameras, she said.
“YPD officers are highly skilled professionals trained in community policing and outreach and de-escalation techniques, so the use of a body camera should not change the way YPD officers patrol the campus or interact with the community,” Lindner added.
The general order that mandates all uniformed officers must wear a body camera while performing his or her duties was adopted April 1. It lays out parameters for the use of body cameras and their footage.
According to the general order, YPD equipped its officers with body cameras in order to strengthen police accountability, resolve officer-involved incidents and complaints through an “objectively independent record of events” and improve “agency transparency.” The camera footage will also be used to train officers and improve evidence documentation for investigations.
In an interview earlier this month with the News, Mike Hall, spokesman for the Yale Police Benevolent Association, said the past year and a half has been a time of change for the department. Officials have made changes to over 40 general orders, including the one that added body cameras.
Though many other police departments have trouble implementing such equipment, the YPBA was able to negotiate a “workable” general order, Hall said.
“We wear the body cameras now,” he said. “There’s been virtually no issue.”
In a March 2015 University-wide email, University President Peter Salovey released the internal investigation report of the January 2015 Blow incident and announced the creation of the review panel. Salovey wrote that the administration asked the panel to offer recommendations for YPD policies, procedures and training. The panel was also asked “to suggest actions that might be taken to continue to advance the goal of community policing and constructive interactions between police and students,” Salovey wrote.
The panel consisted of former Head of Berkeley College Marvin Chun, former president of the New England Association of Chiefs of Police Charles Reynolds and former U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson. The report was a collaboration of panel members, Lindner, Yale’s former acting General Counsel Cynthia Carr and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins.
The ad hoc panel tasked with providing recommendations to University and YPD policies released its recommendations on March 24, 2015.
The group’s findings suggested that in addition to the body camera pilot programs at the time, which mandated that one supervisor per shift wear the equipment, the YPD should “institute a policy that all officers be required to wear body-worn cameras while on duty and that the body-worn cameras should be activated during a consequential or inconsequential encounter.”
The YPD’s move to start using body cameras is part of a recent trend in police departments across the nation. The New Haven Police Department is looking to outfit all members of its police force with body cameras by the middle of next year, a program that is currently contingent on financing and union agreements.
The East Haven and Hamden police departments already use body cameras.