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April 03, 2017

SEPTA: Body cameras have reduced excessive force complaints from suspects

Injuries to transit police officers also dropped during first six months of video-recording program

Injuries to SEPTA police officers and criminal suspects sharply declined in the first six months that transit officers began wearing body cameras, according to an audit released Monday.

Injuries to officers dropped 30 percent while injuries to criminal suspects fell 20 percent. The figures were compared to the first six months of 2015.

SEPTA launched its body camera program on Jan. 1, 2016, requiring all officers to activate cameras while responding to police radio calls or engaging with the public.

The audit, completed internally by SEPTA police, reviewed the first six months of the program. The videos reviewed by in the audit were randomly selected.

The audit also found that Internal Affairs investigations fell by 25 percent, including a 57 percent reduction in excessive force investigations. 

It also found that complaints against transit officers declined by 25 percent. "Response to Resistance" incidents — when transit officers react to physical resistance from a criminal suspect or person in distress — fell by 19 percent. 

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III praised the technology, saying the cameras help strengthen relationships with the public.

"The hope is that the need for physical force by the police will diminish, and false allegations lodged by citizens against the police will be reduced," Nestel said. "The cameras also serve as an added deterrent to abuse of authority."

SEPTA retained 13,970 videos for evidentiary, investigative or training purposes during the first six months. 

The audit found some improvements could be made. Some videos contained unclear video and audio due to the placement of the camera. Others did not include any audio or have the required recording. 

When necessary, SEPTA officials say, officers will be retrained on the devices. 

SEPTA spent $400,000 to purchase equipment and train its police force. All officers are equipped with Digital Ally First VU body cameras.

The pilot program, in which 15 officers tested body cameras from 10 vendors, preceded the current program. 

Read the complete audit here.