TUPD body camera policy, footage will not be public record

Brandi Doyal, Print News Editor

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The Office of General Counsel has announced that the policy for Tulane University Police Department body cameras and the footage obtained from routine operations will not be public record. The footage is considered essential to TUPD’s law enforcement activates. TUPD started using body cameras earlier this semester.

Executive Director of Public Relations Michael Strecker said TUPD is funded by the university’s operating budget, to which student’s tuition contributes, but TUPD will not allow the footage to be accessed by the community.

The General Counsel advised TUPD that neither the tapes nor the policy regarding the use of the tapes would be released as public record.

General Counsel Victoria Johnson said TUPD is not required to release the tapes or the policy because it is not a public body under the provisions of the Louisiana Public Records Act, as Tulane University is a private, non-profit entity. 

“The crime camera policy governs the use of an investigatory tool and is an internal operations policy only for TUPD officers,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that the footage would not be released to protect the rights of victims and perpetrators. 

“This footage could potentially include images of crime victims, witnesses and information that, if released, could compromise ongoing investigations,” Johnson said. “Knowing their exchanges with the police would be filmed and released publicly could also stifle student engagement with TUPD officers.”

TUPD Superintendent Jon Barnwell said that the footage is kept for 30 days, unless it attaches to a criminal incident, where it would then be classified as evidence.

“Due to our professionalism and trust already developed with the community, the cameras simply add an additional layer of transparency and quality control for our delivery of police services,” Barnwell said. “I am always looking at progressive and innovative ways to improve our quality and efficiency.”

Associated Student Body President Sarah Hostetler said that her hometown has installed a similar policy policy regarding their body cameras. 

“The first reason [the police did not release the tapes] was because of everyone’s right to a fair trial … They also were clear that if they were to make them public it could violate the privacy of anyone accused of a crime. That being said, any time the body cams are subpoenaed, they turned over within 24 hours. They also were very clear that the tapes would never be destroyed.” 

Junior Allison Reip said she thinks the public should have a right to view TUPD’s body camera footage. 

“It appears that TUPD is purposefully trying to avoid transparency in their process,” Reip said. “As part of an organization that is currently focusing on police accountability and as a student whose tuition is going to pay for the cameras, it’s concerning. We should have access to information regarding public and student safety.”