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Pittsburgh Police Look To Gov. Wolf To Expand Body Camera Use

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Ed Trapp displays a police body camera.

During a special Pittsburgh City Council meeting Tuesday, public safety officials called on Gov. Tom Wolf to sign legislation that would allow officers more latitude in using their body cameras.

Under current Pennsylvania law, police can use body cameras in public places, including stores, but unless they are in active pursuit of a suspect, they must get permission from the owner to use them in a private residence.

A measure passed by the state House and Senate would lift that prohibition.

Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Ed Trapp said the value of the devices increases when an officer enters a home.

“We’re allowed to have the cameras out in the street, out in the public, where there are probably going to be other witnesses to what actually happened,” Trapp said. “If I come into your residence and it’s just you and it’s just me, it’s you word and my word, the camera has the possibility of giving an unbiased account of what’s inside.”

Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said changing the law would mean one less thing that an officer needs to worry about while on a call.

“We can have our officers not thinking or second guessing should I turn it on, can I turn it on?” Schubert said.  “You have to remember where we’re doing this stuff in a chaotic moment, I mean things are rapidly evolving.”

Gov. Wolf is expected to sign the bill. 

The measure exempts recordings from requests under Pennsylvania's open-records law. Any request would have to go through the local district attorney’s office. If denied, the decision could be appealed to the courts. Any request would potentially have to be made in a relatively short period of time. Most police departments periodically purge their stored video.

Pittsburgh police delete files in 30 days, unless there is a request or the recording is part of an investigation.

Pittsburgh has issued 147 cameras to officers who are assigned to duties where it would be unlikely they would enter homes, such as on a motorcycle patrol. The city has 150 additional cameras that have not yet been deployed and about 750 more are expected to be delivered later this year.