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Allegheny County DA Wants More Technology For Police Force

The Allegheny County District Attorney called for an increase in the use of video cameras in law enforcement Monday.

Stephen Zappala said cameras add an extra level of objectivity to the police force.

Zappala said video cameras in police vehicles reduced legal complaints against police officers across the county by 90 percent.

“Every time that somebody sues a municipality on a one-on-one stop,” he said, “it costs us money as taxpayers. We refer to it legally as contingent liabilities … When you introduce objective evidence, that changes substantially.”

Zappala said he’s asking the Pittsburgh Police bureau for a budget in order to install cameras in cars that still lack the technology.

The bureau has around 300 vehicles and installing the cameras was first proposed in 2010.

Zappala also stressed the importance of using cameras to record statements from witnesses and suspects.

He said cameras not only show crime scenes and traffic violations but also monitor the officers themselves.

“It gives us the ability to evaluate whether or not somebody who calls themselves a detective really should be a detective,” Zappala said. “If you can’t do this, then maybe you need to be trained further and with the appropriate training, if you can’t do this then you shouldn’t be a detective. That’s the way we should be doing business.”

But it’s not just authorities doing the recording. More citizens are using smartphones to record police encounters.

Zappala said it’s a constitutional right to engage a police officer verbally and film that interaction, but “that right needs to be exercised reasonably.”

He said the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association will soon begin training officers when it comes to filming police.

“When you’re being antagonized, it’s human nature to act a particular way,” Zappala said. “We just want to make sure that they understand they’re no longer human beings. They’re police officers, they’re professionals and if people have the right to do this then you should understand that.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."