Students beware! Security are getting body cams
Unisa has ordered 50 of the state-of-the-art cameras, and UJ says it is considering them
Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!
Students at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the University of Johannesburg could soon find themselves being captured on video by campus security personnel using body-worn cameras.
Unisa confirmed on Wednesday it would be buying about 50 state-of-the-art cameras during the first phase of its rollout, while the University of Johannesburg said it was also considering them.
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said it had bought a small number of body cameras “to test the viability and value such technology can add to the security strategy of the university”.
“Taking into account the trend to shift blame when incidents take place, the use of body cameras can play a huge role, as camera data provides a true record of the unfolding of incidents.
“The fact that the camera data can provide a true and correct version of the incident provides protection to security staff, but ultimately also to students, staff and clients.” He said the carrying of body cameras by security personnel “aligns the behaviour of individuals” because they were aware that there was a record of all actions, behaviour, verbal remarks and comments.
“This has proven to reduce aggression. Cameras are used as a performance measure to ensure that tasks are executed timely.”
He said because a body camera cost about R10,200, only those directly interacting with the public and at risk of being involved in conflict situations would receive these devices.
According to Ramotshela, the investment in body cameras as a security aid would become the norm in the future because of the ever-increasing prevalence of student protests.
UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said the cameras would “capture and keep evidence of interactions between the security staff and all stakeholders to ensure that the rights of all parties are not infringed”.
He said the cameras could also provide valuable evidence in crimefighting activities, including public violence, threats and intimidation.
“We are waiting for quotes to see how many units we can buy and if it’s going to fit it into our budget.”
Esterhuizen said parents were concerned about the safety of their children on university campuses.
“At UJ, we understand that concern and accept our responsibility to implement security measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students and that the university environment is conducive to learning and free from acts of threats and intimidation.”
During the height of the Fees Must Fall protests in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years, UJ suffered damage worth R144m to buildings and equipment that were either vandalised or torched.
In total, the protests cost higher education institutions more than R786m in damage.
Responding to media queries, Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma said it had not discussed the purchase of body cameras and “therefore has not made a decision to purchase any such equipment”.
North West University spokesperson Louis Jacobs said they were not considering the use of body cameras.
However, University of Pretoria spokesperson Rikus Delport said the university had been using body-worn cameras since 2015, making it probably the only institution in the country to have been using them for so long. Renee McKinon, general manager of Starbase Telecoms in Johannesburg, a supplier of body-worn cameras, confirmed at least three universities had expressed serious interest in buying the equipment.
But she declined to name them because “we are in the middle of negotiations”.
She said the company would hopefully be clinching a deal with one of them by the end of this month.
The body camera, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, is worn on an officer’s chest.
McKinon said one of the universities had told them students went on the rampage and were quick to take videos on their cellphones.
“But it’s only from their point of view, and they don’t show the whole incident. Other universities are wanting to do it as a preventative thing; they want to look after their students and keep them safe.”
She said the body cameras protected both sides, adding: “It’s an honest way of actually showing what is happening. Both sides are protected and get to see exactly what happened. The camera only records what happened and is not biased towards any side.”
Gareth Newham, head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies, said using body-worn cameras wouldn’t help if you had poorly paid and trained security officers with low morale.
“It is dependent on the kind of ethos, training and the ethics of the security officer. You must have really good people who are trained, who believe in what they are doing and who are supported and held accountable. It’s very difficult to get technology to make up for the shortcomings.”
Meanwhile, police officers based at Loyola University Chicago and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga started wearing body cameras in August and September last year respectively.
As part of a pilot project, teachers at two schools in the UK have been using body cameras since 2017.
Deputy minister of basic education Enver Surty suggested in parliament on Tuesday that school governing bodies should have safety committees.
He said the department was concerned about violence at schools and assaults on teachers as well as a lack of discipline pupils.