What commuters need to know about SEPTA police’s new body cameras

On New Year’s Day, all of SEPTA’s roughly 300 police officers began wearing body cameras. Here’s what you need to know about how the cameras will be used.

SEPTA officers don’t have to hit the “record” button on the side of the device just for saying “hello,” but they do as soon as they start responding to a call or investigating a situation. They’re also required by state law to notify people when they’re being recorded.

You should be able to see the camera, which looks like a small black box with a lens, peeking out over the top button of the officer’s uniform. 

At the end of their shifts, officers upload the videos to a server and those that are not flagged for use as evidence in an investigation will be automatically deleted after 90 days.

“I like to say that cameras are going to make good cops great cops and make the rest of them follow the rules,” said SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel, who called himself a “big believer” in the technology, but acknowledged it can be difficult to get police officers to buy in.

Officers will also be subject to spot checks to make sure they’re actually using the body cameras, and there will be repercussions for those who don’t, although Nestel could not specify exactly what those would be. The transit agency has asked a Drexel researcher to survey police officers over the course of the year about their attitudes toward the technology. 

Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said Nestel consulted her on a draft of the policy on how to implement the body cameras. After reviewing the final draft, Roper has concluded SEPTA developed a “model policy” when it comes to protecting the public’s privacy and using the videos to hold officers accountable with one exception.

“The one thing it doesn’t provide for is for an individual who has been in an encounter with an officer to request that video without trying to jump through the hoops of the Right-To-Know law,” Roper said. 

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