SEPTA police body-camera program yields ‘great positives,’ chief says

 SEPTA police are evaluating their 6-month-old body camera program. (Emma Lee/NewsWorks, file)

SEPTA police are evaluating their 6-month-old body camera program. (Emma Lee/NewsWorks, file)

SEPTA’s nascent body camera program is paying off.

During the first six months of 2016, complaints against SEPTA police decreased 25 percent compared with the same period the year before, according to an internal audit released by SEPTA on Monday.

The audit, conducted by SEPTA police, also revealed that officer injuries decreased by 30 percent and  suspect injuries by 20 percent.

“There are some great positives,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III.

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The audit wasn’t all rosy.

Roughly 20 percent of randomly selected incidents didn’t have the required body camera footage, meaning an officer didn’t hit record, one of the program’s mandatory protocols.

“Officers need time to get used to it. And that learning curve is still occurring. But I was happy to see there was a high percentage of contacts that we sent officers to that we had body camera video for,” said Nestel.

Every SEPTA transit cop — all 250 of them — was outfitted with a camera in January 2016.

More than 50,000 videos were captured during the first half of 2016. Nearly 14,000 of them were retained for “evidentiary, investigative or training reasons.”

The program, which cost SEPTA more than $400,000 to roll out, is expected to be a permanent part of the force.

The Fraternal Order of Transit Police in Philadelphia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Efforts to reach members of the SEPTA Citizen Advisory Committee, “an independent representative and advocate on behalf of our customers,” were unsuccessful.

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