Police body cameras can help officers and suspects, so why don’t more departments have them?


If you’re under the impression that most police agencies in Pennsylvania have body cameras as a part of their arsenal, you’d be wrong.

Police in Pennsylvania are lagging years behind their counterparts across the country in adopting use of body cameras, in large part because they were worried they’d run afoul of the state’s wiretapping law.

Elsewhere in the U.S., body cameras have been in use for nearly a decade. A 2013 Department of Justice study found that one-third of local police departments had cameras by that time. Another study found that 95 percent of the nation’s largest departments were using body cameras, or planning to adopt them, by 2015.

The 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the protests that followed accelerated those efforts, as cameras were seen as a way to increase police accountability and build public trust.

So two years ago ,when Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law that enabled police to use the cameras on the job without risking charges for illegal wiretapping or a lawsuit, Pennsylvania was already well behind the curve.

It hasn’t yet caught up.

PennLive surveyed 22 police agencies that serve central Pennsylvania, including state police, and found only three have moved beyond pilot programs to put body cameras into regular use.

Most departments that don’t have cameras say they would like to begin using them but they face several obstacles, not the least of which is cost. They also are moving deliberately to draft policies governing the use of cameras, storage of the resulting video and issues of who can access it.

Around the state, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both began planning for the use of body cameras before the 2017 law change, and now have cameras in place. Philadelphia just completed its policy last year, while Pittsburgh had outfitted all officers to start 2019, TribLive reported.

York instituted a body camera program for the department that was completed just before the law was changed, YDR reported, and Lancaster started its program last year, according to LancasterOnline.

Scranton, Erie and Harrisburg are all still in the process of acquiring cameras but closing in on the finish line, according to local media reports.

Central Pennsylvania police agencies say they’re eager to put cameras, typically worn on the front of a police officer’s uniform where they can capture interactions between police officers and the public, into use. In the event of a problem, footage can be reviewed to assess the actions of both parties.

“Majority of police officers, when we go on scene, you see cameras recording you from the moment you roll up to any interaction you have with a person,” Harrisburg Deputy Police Chief Deric Moody said. “And that can be doctored, that can be manipulated to be shown in a light to spin the story. [A body camera] levels that playing field. You have a video but we also have a video.”

Added Darrell Rieder, director of public safety for Swatara Township: “I don’t fear this in the least bit. I think that our officers do a great job and have done so for many years. If anything. I see this as an opportunity to show people how professional our police officers are, how dangerous their jobs are, and what a good job they do in handling the situations they’re put in. I look forward to them having that extra layer of protection, to show what they’ve done in a certain situation.”

Post time: Jul-26-2019
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