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Police body cameras more likely? DA Marsico on board after state law OK’d

By Dan Miller
Posted 8/23/17

Middletown and other police departments in Dauphin County now have the green light to move forward with acquiring body cameras, at least as far as county DA Ed Marsico is concerned.

That’s …

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Police body cameras more likely? DA Marsico on board after state law OK’d

police body cameras
police body cameras

Middletown and other police departments in Dauphin County now have the green light to move forward with acquiring body cameras, at least as far as county DA Ed Marsico is concerned.

That’s because the rules governing use of body cameras by police in Pennsylvania have been clarified with the recent passage of new state legislation — Senate Bill 560 — that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 7.

The new law settles questions regarding police being able to use body cameras while inside a private residence, Marsico told the Press & Journal.

The law also addresses the other “major concern” that DAs and police had regarding body cameras — whether the audio or video recordings are subject to the state Right-To-Know law.

As Marsico noted, the law expressly exempts audio and video recordings made by police in Pennsylvania using body cameras from provisions of the 2008 Right-To-Know law.

Instead, the legislation sets forth a separate process that is to govern a request from an individual or an organization for audio and video recordings that police make using body cameras.

No police departments in Dauphin County have body cameras yet. Marsico said he believes Swatara Township and Harrisburg City are the police departments in the county that are closest to using body cameras.

Police in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have begun using body cameras, as have police in several smaller municipal police departments throughout Pennsylvania, Wolf said in a July 7 news release issued regarding his signing of the body cameras legislation.

“Body-worn cameras strengthen police accountability, prevent confrontational situations, and improve evidence documentation,” Wolf said.

Marsico said he favors use of body cameras by police in the county, for several reasons.

“They may help police and prosecutors make a stronger case” in certain criminal prosecutions, he said. “We see that with dashboard camera footage already, especially with DUI cases,” Marsico said.

Body cameras will protect police from “false claims of inappropriate behavior,” the DA noted. In situations where police misconduct has occurred, body cameras will “bolster the case against those individuals” Marsico added.

In Middletown, public discussion — albeit very preliminary — has begun regarding outfitting borough police with body cameras.

On Aug. 15, the police department under new permanent Chief George Mouchette gave a presentation to borough council about the need to upgrade the department’s entire capability when it comes to the use of cameras to document evidence and to provide surveillance at the police station.

The department advised council of a quote from one company to upgrade the department’s existing camera system at a cost of $223,000. The new system would accommodate the use of body-worn cameras, said Charlie Reuter of Intermix, the borough’s information technology provider.

Council took no action regarding the presentation. Other estimates for such a system would need to be solicited from other companies, Mayor James H. Curry III and Council Vice President Dawn Knull both said.

Back in July — apparently before borough officials knew that Wolf had signed the new state law — Curry had told council of an anonymous person who won a police body camera in a drawing, and who wanted to donate the equipment to Middletown Police Department.

Solicitor Adam Santucci advised at the time that implementing body cameras for the department is not something that can happen overnight.

“We would have a lot of work before we could be able to roll out body cameras, although long term I think they are a goal to shoot for, because I think they protect the officers and the public, but we would have a lot of work to do to get there,” Santucci advised council. “There’s a financial investment, a policy investment, a training investment, a server investment, a Right-To-Know investment. There’s a lot of impediments to rolling out, which I think ultimately is a good thing.”

Even with the new state law now in place, police departments looking to implement use of body cameras need to have their own policies in place to govern use of the equipment, Marsico said.

Wolf as part of signing the bill also announced the awarding of a $52,000 federal grant to help fund a pilot program of body-worn cameras by Pennsylvania State Police. The grant allows for the purchase of approximately 30 cameras by State Police, the governor said.

The primary goal of the pilot program is to create a way for state police to develop and implement policy and training programs related to body-worn cameras, according to the news release. The state police have begun work on all policies and procedures, training curriculum, and funding for backend components to commence the pilot program.

State Police hope to have body cameras out in the field through the pilot program by early 2018, said Ryan Tarkowski, communications director for the State Police.

It is too early to say if any of the state police body cameras in the pilot program will be worn by troopers in Dauphin County, Tarkowski said.