Public Safety body cameras: a potential reality?

By Sarah F. Griffin

Princeton University, The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, Kean University and Stockton University all require their public safety officers to wear body cameras while on duty. 

Meanwhile, Rider University, Georgian Court University and Seton Hall University don’t. Is there a difference between how safe students feel based on the usage of body cameras on campus?

On college campuses, instances that some consider to be ordinary are recorded daily: professors record their lectures for students who missed class, students record videos of their peers and some universities may record students in common areas.

It is a regular occurrence for college students to interact with Public Safety officers.

A debate has arisen: should Public Safety officers be required to wear body cameras when they interact with students in case something goes wrong?

New York Times investigation

The New York Times published a podcast Jan. 29, 2024,  titled, “The Failed Promise of Police Body Cameras,” hosted by Sabrina Tavernise featuring Eric Umansky.

Tavernise and Umansky discussed the idea of police officers wearing body cameras while on duty, and some instances where officers who were wearing body cameras were accused of misconduct. 

Some police departments may not embrace the idea of body cameras because of privacy concerns, Umansky said.

With the national debate around police body cameras continuing to grow fierce, more attention has been given to the idea of Public Safety officers on college campuses wearing body cameras as well.

Despite not being required by state law, some New Jersey college’s Public Safety departments already mandate officers to wear body cameras on duty.

Rider’s Director of Public Safety James G. Waldon said Rider was considering mandating body cameras on Public Safety officers. 

“We’re in the process of evaluating that for our department. That evaluation hasn’t finished,” he said. Incoming Student Government Association President Christina Natoli said that they do not have enough information about the topic at the time, but consider campus safety a primary discussion point.

TCNJ, Montclair State University, Kean University, Stockton University, Georgian Court University and Seton Hall University student government declined to comment.

Student opinions

A Rider freshman political science major, Eden Nadella, who uses he/they pronouns, said he felt “pretty safe on campus.”

“I haven’t had a moment where I kind of worry about walking around; however, I make it a point that if I’m out late at night to have somebody with me, like a friend or my girlfriend— but if I’m walking around during the afternoon I don’t have any fear,” they said.

Nadella described his instinct for safety as good and said he took precautions like carrying pepper spray when he has to walk alone at night. 

Nadella described an instance from the fall semester where they felt unsafe at Rider.

“A person was sleeping in Kroner Hall’s living room — that struck me, especially because I live in Kroner. Knowing he was sleeping in there while we were moving in definitely didn’t feel right. He didn’t have any ill intentions, but it’s just the principle that this man could just be in there.”

Nadella said he thought Public Safety should wear body cameras because dangerous situations “wouldn’t be left to the ‘he said, she said’ thing.”

“It’s more a question of if the university can afford body cams,” Nadella said.  

Soumya Khandavalli, a junior liberal arts major with a minor in psychology, said that Public Safety could do a better job for the most part.

“Personally, I think they’re doing well with giving tickets on cars, but I don’t think they respond fast enough when people call them,”she said.

Khandavalli described an instance where she was left displeased with Public Safety’s handling of the situation. 

“I had rats in my room, and they laughed it off,” Khandavalli said. “They were like ‘What are we supposed to do about it?’ I said, ‘You could call an exterminator, that would be a great start.’ But I guess they thought I was joking because they cut the phone.”

Khandavalli described a hesitant openness to the idea of Public Safety officers wearing body cams: “I’m okay with it, but if a Public Safety officer came up to me and their body camera was on, I’d like to know.”

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