During a varied career wearing a badge, Dr. Brian Kelly, Farmingdale State College Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, dealt with nearly every imaginable crime scenario. But it’s in a classroom where he takes a shot that may matter most.
As one of the first academics in the country to introduce police body cameras as a teaching tool in the classroom, Kelly has been recognized for his innovative thinking on the nationally syndicated "SciTech Now" on PBS and on WCBS/Channel 2 locally. Filming imaginary confrontations with his students as actors, Kelly’s approach is both daring and compelling.
Kelly studies body cameras and their effect on policing—and the perceptions they create. Having once served as both a transit officer and a corrections officer in New Jersey, he was never required to wear camera equipment on the job. Now retired from law enforcement, he clearly sees their value in today’s YouTube video environment.
“I wanted to think outside the box,” he said. “I brainstormed, and I also discussed the idea with trusted colleagues working in law enforcement. I then formed a list of what falls into the category of applied learning content, as well as what I believed our students would appreciate through instructional engagement.”
For many of Kelly’s students—a majority of whom plan to pursue law enforcement careers—this pioneering decision to bring the streets into the classroom has provided an enlightening, real-world perspective.
“Body cameras impacted my view of law enforcement by showing that society is leaning toward the direction where technology is heavily used,” said former Criminal Justice student Megan Watson, who was planning on a career with the New York City Police Department or becoming a U.S. Marshall. “I was skeptical at first, but Dr. Kelly said body cameras are about decreasing liability and increasing officer accountability, and my view changed. It made sense, because cameras are about protecting the rights of both parties—officers and civilians—while also showing the community that departments are willing to be transparent to a degree when it comes to police and community interactions.”
As part of Kelly’s presentation, staged incidents are filmed and analyzed. The scenarios range from an emotionally disturbed person acting out, to a suspect becoming belligerent with an officer or resisting arrest. Students then engage in discussions about what they saw during the incident—or thought they saw.
“Students often make great decisions,” Kelly said. “Then we have times where students say or do things that would not hold up well in court, and we correct those, based on policy that exists in police departments. I also break down the film playback and we timestamp everything that is said and done, and mock testify to it in class.”
And thanks to Kelly, fewer police departments are remaining camera-shy.