At Farmingdale State, ‘body cams’ in the classroom

See plus: Farmingdale State College is leading an educational evolution by introducing "body cams" to its criminal justice program.

A Long Island college is employing body-worn cameras in the classroom – but no, professors are not keeping a third eye on students.

In what it describes as a first for U.S. colleges and universities, Farmingdale State College has brought “body cams” into the mix of its criminal justice program, instructing tomorrow’s law enforcers (and attorneys) on the pros, cons, do’s and don’ts of an increasingly common law-enforcement technology.

That “increasingly common” part is the crux, according to FSC, though hard statistics on the actual use of law-enforcement body cams are difficult to find.

The National Institute of Justice, the R&D and evaluation wing of the U.S. Department of Justice, reports that as of 2013, only one in four of the United States’ roughly 18,000 police departments issued body cams to officers. But by 2015, according to the Justice Department, that was already down to one in three – and a 2016 survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America stated that 95 percent of “large” U.S. police departments were “either committed to body cameras or have completed their implementation.”

Farmingdale State pegs current usage around 70 percent of U.S. police departments. But regardless of the actual number, the use of law-enforcement body cams is clearly on the rise – making studies of the technology as important as lessons on DNA analysis and other cutting-edge policework.

According to the college, “applied classroom learning with body cams is the most sought-after tool in contemporary police and prosecutorial training.”

It was certainly sought after by Brian Kelly, an assistant professor in FSC’s criminal justice program who first approached the college about incorporating the technology in classroom settings.

Kelly, who earned a doctor of education degree in educational leadership from Seton Hall University and is a former Essex County, NJ, law enforcement officer, is currently leading a wide-ranging research effort on the perceptions generated by police body cams.

Brian Kelly: Candid assessment.

Based on that research – and the increasing number of incidents caught on body cams, including many finding their way into the public domain – incorporating the technology in criminal-justice education is a logical evolution, according to the professor.

The technology includes field-grade body cams purchased from New Jersey-based tech manufacturer L-3 Mobile-Vision, an industry leader in the development and distribution of visual imaging for law enforcers. The cameras feature at least one microphone each, plus internal data-storage capabilities.

Scenarios such as assaults, robberies and “disturbing the peace” incidents are staged in the classroom or other settings, with a “police officer” on the scene wearing an L-3 Mobile-Vision unit.

After witnessing the incident for themselves, Kelly’s students analyze the recorded footage and compare it to what actually happened – not only picking up details they might have missed during the live action, but learning better to understand how body-cam recordings can influence perceptions.

In an era when both body-cam usage and body-cam misperceptions are on the rise, teaching future justice professionals the ropes is a no-brainer, according to the professor.

“It’s a hot topic in society and within police work itself,” Kelly said. “And no other college in the nation possesses or utilizes this equipment on a regular basis within their course curriculum.”

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