Some Pennsylvania State Police troopers are now wearing body cameras as part of a federally funded six-month pilot program. Select troopers from Troop B in Uniontown, Troop J in Avondale and Troop T in Somerset underwent special training before being deployed with the cameras.
State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said the agency supports widespread body camera use and is working to prepare for any expansion. The three troops outfitted with the cameras represent different regions of policing in the commonwealth – Troop B’s coverage includes Pittsburgh, T covers the Pennsylvania Turnpike and J covers the rural southeast corner of the state.
“We wanted to get a good cross-section of the types of interactions troopers would have on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It’s very important that as we begin to roll out these body cameras that the training and policy associated with the technology is solid.”
The department has also developed and published a body camera use policy, which governs when the cameras should be recording and when they can or must be turned off. They created the guide with input from the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The policy’s goal, Tarkowski said, is balancing privacy rights with public access to the video. The public can request body camera footage through the court system under Act 22, which became law in 2017.
Mary Catherine Roper, the deputy legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU, said the State Police policy has a lot of important privacy and accountability protections. The included audit system is one such example.
“What we have heard in a number of jurisdictions when officers start using these cameras is that they don’t turn them on when they’re supposed to; they turn them off when they’re not supposed to,” Roper said. “But if you have in place an audit program, as this policy does, then you can catch ahead of time if officers aren’t using this equipment properly and retrain them.”
The policy’s main negative, Roper said, is that troopers can review body camera footage before preparing a police report.
“A police officer can essentially shape the report to match the evidence, which is something that defense attorneys, and frankly anybody interested in police accountability, finds problematic,” Roper said. “And what’s worse – they don’t even have to note that they’re doing that.”
The pilot program began with a $52,000 federal grant back in 2017, which allowed the State Police to purchase 30 of the cameras and pay for training and policy development. Tarkowski said outfitting all 4300 troopers with body cameras poses funding challenges.
“It’s going to be a massive undertaking if these body cameras are deployed statewide,” he said. “The funding will have to cover the cameras, but also backend and storage and everything that goes with maintaining that much video.”
This post was updated at 4:35 p.m. on June 19, 2018 to include comment from the ACLU and Pennsylvania State Police. The Associated Press contributed to this report.