ISU keeping body camera policy secret

By Kathy A. Bolten
Des Moines Register

Iowa State University campus police began wearing body cameras this summer, the last of the state’s three public universities to use the devices.

The public, though, is not privy to rules that govern how those body cameras will be used by ISU campus police, The Des Moines Register has learned.

That’s because the department has not adopted a formal policy, and no timeline exists for when a policy might be finalized.

Campus police are operating under a draft policy that the department has refused to release.

“We really want to make sure we had our employees’ privacy rights in mind and the communities’ privacy rights,” said Aaron DeLashmutt, interim chief of ISU’s police. “We want to look at every avenue before we put (the policy) out there.”

The position taken by ISU’s public safety department runs counter to the recommendations of several national groups, including the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing.

It’s unclear how many public university police departments across the United States use body cameras. No national organizations contacted by the Register keep track of the information.

However, a review of news articles and university websites shows more campuses are equipping officers with body cameras to increase accountability and diminish concerns about potential officer misconduct.

ISU has 37 Iowa Law Enforcement Academy-trained sworn officers who carry guns, Tasers and other standard law-enforcement equipment. The officers patrol the Ames campus, as well as other ISU property.

Since Aug. 1,  ISU’s officers have been involved in 459 cases, 290 of which resulted in an arrest, a review of the department’s online daily crime log shows. Three of the arrests involved weapons violations. Most of the others were alcohol related.

The arrests may well have been captured by officers’ body cameras. However, because the department’s policy is not public, it’s unclear how long any footage might be retained.

“We still have a lot of things to consider,” DeLashmutt said. “We want to be as thoughtful as possible” before making the policy public.

The justice department’s Community Oriented Policing division recommends that agencies have policies in place before using body cameras. That provides officers with guidance and allows the public to know when the devices are to be turned on or off, according to the federal agency’s website.

In addition, the agency recommends what should be included in policies, such as how long footage will be retained and protocols that will be followed when video is requested for release.

“Body cameras have been presented to the public as a tool for law enforcement administration and the public to benefit from,” said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “The fact that police officers know what the policy says and the public doesn’t, doesn’t instill a lot confidence from the public in the ISU police.”

Cole Staudt, president of ISU’s student government, said although campus police told the organization that officers were going to wear body cameras, no student input was sought in developing a policy.

Staudt said he expects the policy will be discussed by a university committee before it is formally adopted.

“I know our police department does a good job, but sometimes things happen and it would be good to have policies and procedures in place so we know how a situation will be handled,” he said.

Members of student governments at Big 12 universities have an annual meeting in November. Body cameras will be discussed, Staudt said.

“One thing we’ll talk about is what these policies should look like,” he said.

The Connecticut-based International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators has a list of position statements that includes “openness of operation.”

Campus police operations should “not be shrouded in secrecy,” according to the statement. In addition, “there should be public disclosure of policy and an openness on matters of public interest.”

The association recommends departments follow recommendations released in 2015 by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said Randy Burba, the group’s president and chief of public safety at Chapman University in Irvine, Calif.

The task force “talks about the importance of transparency in policing and why it’s important that departments explain what their policies are, how they arrived at them, and also to share them with their communities,” Burba said.

DeLashmutt said he did not know when ISU’s policy would be made public. One of the issues now under discussion is whether body cameras should be operating inside a hospital or other care facility, he said.

“I really couldn’t say when it will all be done,” he said.