On holding CSS accountable: A proposal to equip officers with body cameras

Taran Dugal

 It’s 2019. The College is enjoying its first year under the tenure of its first-ever female president and the Africana studies department recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding. It is important to remember, however, that the fight for profound change must not be forgotten or forsaken in the presence of these fruits of progressivism. Numerous deep-rooted issues of injustice and inequality on campus still remain unresolved, each one as relevant and consequential as the other. That said, it would be an arrogant and impossible task to sufficiently address each of these issues in necessary detail in one article. Instead, I will focus on a specific issue on campus – the accountability vacuum of Campus Safety & Security (CSS) – and propose a partial solution to that issue: the purchasing and equipping of body cameras. 

Students and staff of color are, perhaps more than anyone else in the College community, well acquainted with the many institutional injustices that continue to plague the United States’ justice system, especially the lack of accountability faced by corrupt and immoral officials in positions of power and authority. A significant number of students of color, myself included, have had antagonistic interactions with authoritative figures – be it police, judges, state-assigned lawyers – that have lent themselves to an inherent distrust of authority. While the badge might represent safety and order to some, to others, it represents unspeakable trauma grounded in a potent and justified fear. As a result, widespread distrust and wariness toward CSS, a force staffed with a less-than-remarkable number of people of color (PoC), should not be surprising. It should not be taken as a slight against CSS, either. Instead, the administration must recognize, understand and support the perspective from which its students are coming from and work towards nullifying any concerns regarding safety that students might have. 

Indeed, insofar as CSS aims to “enhance the quality of life at Williams by providing a safe and secure environment that is conducive to learning, and is consistent with the educational goals of this diverse institution, while building community partnerships that foster trust, mutual respect and cooperation,” as its mission statement claims, it only makes sense that they and the administration would support the purchasing and equipping of body cameras. It is undeniable that the use of body cameras would directly lend itself to a safer and more secure campus environment, and would also foster community relationships that prioritize trust, respect and cooperation. In fact, the very presence of body cameras alone would go a long way in improving transparency between CSS officers and members of the College. 

Additionally, it seems that this increased transparency would significantly help in reducing the accountability vacuum enjoyed by CSS, as the everyday interactions between officers and students would be well documented and preserved. It is no secret that many students, especially those of color, have often taken issue with the way in which CSS and its officers have conducted their business. Hopefully, the use of body cameras would not only help in eliminating altercations between officers and students, but also in building a strong foundation of trust that would benefit the College community as whole. 

The idea of equipping campus security forces with body cameras is not a new one. Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Wisconsin and the University of Chicago all have already implemented the use of body cameras, either with their campus security or police force. These efforts ought to be commended. In taking such action, these institutions have not only demonstrably acted in promoting the rights and safety of the members of their PoC communities, but have also implicitly spoken against the overwhelming wave of police brutality and judicial injustice that currently terrorizes the United States. It is of my earnest opinion that Williams ought to learn from these peer institutions and follow in their footsteps. Only by taking small, proactive steps such as these can we as a community actualize real change. 

Taran Dugal ’20 is a poltical economy major from Ridgefield, Conn.