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Body cameras in the world of public transportation

June 12, 2023

Body cameras in the world of public transportation

Public transportation systems serve as a crucial lifeline for millions of people worldwide, ensuring efficient and reliable travel. However, just like any public space, incidents of crime, misconduct, and disputes can occur within these settings. In recent years, the adoption of body cameras in various sectors — mainly law enforcement — has demonstrated their potential in enhancing transparency, accountability, and safety. Though traditionally used for law enforcement, the benefits and considerations of implementing body cameras in public transportation are vast, focusing on their usage by both police officers and employees within the system.

As one can expect, equipping police officers patrolling public transportation with body cameras, an additional layer of security is added to safeguard passengers, employees, and property. The presence of visible body cameras acts as a powerful deterrent against criminal activities, as potential wrongdoers are aware that their actions are being recorded. Research has shown that the mere presence of cameras can significantly reduce incidents of violence, harassment, and theft within public transportation systems. Equipping officers whose roles are largely in the transportation sector meets the expected goals of such use of the cameras.

To that end, body cameras provide an invaluable source of evidence in the event of incidents or disputes. They capture real-time audio and video recordings, preserving a detailed account of events. This evidence can serve as an objective and unbiased record, aiding in investigations, dispute resolution, and legal proceedings. By having access to accurate recordings, law enforcement and transportation authorities can make more informed decisions based on concrete evidence.

Body cameras allow for a comprehensive documentation of incidents within public transportation, including accidents, altercations, and emergencies. These recordings provide an accurate representation of events and can aid in the reconstruction of incidents, helping authorities better understand the dynamics and factors involved. Furthermore, these recordings can be used for training purposes, enabling supervisors to review and assess the response of both police officers and transportation employees, leading to continuous improvement.

While the benefits of using body cameras in the police world are largely well-known, issuing them to public transportation employees is more unique. As a police officer in New Jersey for over a decade, I’ve responded to dozens, if not hundreds, of serious calls for service that took place in public taxis, public buses, and the areas in and around where such modes of transportation are utilized, such as transportation centers.

Though not widely acknowledged, public transportation workers face various risks in their line of work, including verbal abuse, physical assaults, and false accusations. Body cameras act as a tool to protect employees from such incidents by providing objective evidence of their interactions with passengers. This evidence can be utilized to corroborate employee testimonies and safeguard their rights in cases of unwarranted complaints or disputes.

In one instance that I recall from early in my career, there was a 9-1-1 call from a taxi driver who claimed that a passenger he had picked up had stolen his taxi. Upon arrival, we located the taxi a short distance away from the driver with the passenger sitting in the back seat. As one can imagine, this seemed off for the responding officers because it looked like that taxi driver had simply abandoned his passenger and walked away from the vehicle. Further investigation revealed that the passenger was upset with how long the taxi driver was taking to leave the pickup area and started yelling at him. The taxi driver got out of the vehicle to contact police, at which time the passenger then got into the driver’s seat to drive away, stopping just a half block away. Police investigated the incident and determined that the driver’s story was very likely accurate, however, the passenger claimed that he had only remained in the back seat the entire time and he did not know what was going on. In this type of situation, the job of the police is made difficult because we must have probable cause for an arrest, not just a “common sense” idea of what likely happened. This meant it came down to two competing versions of events. Had this taxi driver been equipped with a body camera system, the ambiguity of what may have transpired could have been erased and the criminal case against the passenger would have been an easy prosecution, not to mention a level of protection from the passenger inappropriately claiming any malfeasance or improper behavior.

While it is evident how body cameras can assist the public transportation employees, an important note is that they can also serve to protect passenger rights. By recording interactions between passengers and employees, these devices act as a deterrent against any potential mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination. In the event of a complaint or claim, the recordings can serve as a crucial piece of evidence to resolve disputes and hold responsible parties accountable. Unfortunately, some major cities across the world have significant problems between passengers and drivers of public transportation vehicles. By utilizing body cameras, it would be the hope that instances of such problems may decrease, however, in the worst case scenario, at least the instances would be recorded and the footage obtained can be used to discipline workers when necessary or prosecute or ban disruptive passengers.

Public transportation systems play a vital role in facilitating travel for millions of people globally, but they also experience incidents of crime and disputes. The use of body cameras, which have been widely adopted by law enforcement, can enhance safety, transparency, and accountability in public transportation. Equipping police officers with body cameras acts as a deterrent against criminal activities, while also providing valuable evidence for investigations and legal proceedings. The cameras also document incidents, aid in reconstructing events, and assist in training and improvement efforts. Furthermore, body cameras protect public transportation employees from risks such as assaults and false accusations, while also safeguarding passenger rights by deterring mistreatment and providing evidence in case of disputes. Overall, the implementation of body cameras in public transportation benefits both employees and passengers alike.