Orange Coast College officers to get pen video cameras

OCC officers
Tom Arensdorf, a public safety officer with Orange Coast College, shows off the department’s pen cameras to record what happens while they’re on duty.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

For several years, the chief of campus safety at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa has issued tape recorders to his officers to use to help protect students and his staff.

John Farmer said evidence from a tape has cleared officers and resolved minor complaints from students countless times.

Now he is taking things a step further with the purchase of about 20 pen cameras, inconspicuous devices that can record interactions between officers and the public.

Like the tape recorders, the pen cameras must be activated by security personnel. Farmer said his staff began using the pens this month and estimated that the devices can record about two hours of video.


“We want the officers to use them any time there is a confrontation that’s negative or has the potential to become negative,” said Farmer, 59. “That way we have proof [of what happened] if there are accusations.”

Doug Bennett, the college’s spokesman, said he considers the change another step toward greater safety and the faster resolution of disputes.

“If there’s concern over an incident, then we have video to verify what happened,” Bennett said. “It’s a tool you can use to get unbiased video and decide where to go from there.”

Farmer’s decision comes at a time when incidents such as the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer have law enforcement agencies across the nation reconsidering how they approach subjects who might have broken the law.


The Los Angeles Police Department initiated a program earlier this year, supplying 30 officers with body cameras, and it is expected to buy 600 more. The New York Police Department issued body cameras to 60 officers in September as part of a pilot program.

Farmer said he has long considered the use of body cameras for his security staff, but until now, the price of such devices had been too high — about $150 per camera.

At about a third of the cost, Farmer can now afford to equip his 20 officers with the video devices.

“I’ve been here 28 years. I’ve been accused. Officers have been accused for things they’ve said and done,” he said. “It’s just a tool to help everybody help get the facts right after the incident occurs.”

William D’Urso writes for Times Community News.