University of Chicago Police Department to implement body-worn cameras

Marielle Sainvilus

University of Chicago Police Department officers will begin using body-worn cameras in April, as part of an ongoing commitment to the safety of officers and the people the department serves.

The use of body-worn cameras is becoming a best practice for police departments nationwide, including those on university campuses. The Chicago Police Department is piloting the use of body-worn cameras and recently announced the expansion of its program into more communities, including Hyde Park and Kenwood.

The University and UCPD have reviewed research findings concerning body-worn cameras and evaluated the technology’s benefits. They concluded that body-worn cameras help provide impartial evidence and documentation, and can serve as tools for officer training and evaluation, thereby enhancing the safety of officers and members of the public.

“In addition to meeting a need that the public has identified, body-worn cameras aid officers in performing their duties,” said UCPD Chief of Police Fountain L. Walker. “These cameras help promote professionalism and accountability among officers.”

When activated by an officer, a body-worn camera has the ability to record and capture both audio and video footage. The footage will be automatically uploaded to a secure server and stored. If the camera footage is not flagged for use as evidence within 90 days, it will automatically be disposed of and can no longer be viewed or retrieved.

In August, the State of Illinois enacted the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act. While this new law does not require police departments in Illinois to have body-worn cameras, it does set the requirements for their use. The requirements state:

  • If an officer is equipped with body-worn cameras, cameras must be turned on at all times when an officer is responding to a call for service or engaged in law enforcement activities.
  • Cameras can be turned off at the request of a victim or witness.
  • Recordings can be flagged for use in an investigation if they contain evidence related to an incident.
  • Recordings must be saved for 90 days unless flagged or stored for evidence.

During the initial implementation phase of UCPD’s body-worn camera program, approximately 20 patrol officers will wear the cameras. The initial phase will allow UCPD personnel to become familiar with the cameras and supported technology, and to address any procedural or technical issues that may arise. UCPD expects that every UCPD patrol officer will be equipped with a body-worn camera by the start of the upcoming academic year.

The implementation of the body-worn cameras comes as the University is taking significant steps to enhance the transparency of the activities of the UCPD. Last June, the University’s safety and security website expanded to include extensive additional information about UCPD activities, including a daily report on all traffic stops and field interviews by UCPD officers. In addition, arrest records are now available upon request and the UCPD’s general orders are available for review in person, by appointment.

Last April, the UCPD further expanded their outreach efforts by establishing a UCPD Community Advisory Committee in order to strengthen relationships with the University community and nearby neighborhoods.