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June 19, 2018

Pennsylvania State Police launch body camera pilot program

Law Enforcement Body Cameras
01022018_PA_state_Police_PSP_FB Pennsylvania State Police/via Facebook

A Pennsylvania State Police cruiser.

Pennsylvania State Police troopers will be wearing body cameras while out on patrol for the first time this month, marking a step forward for a state that has lagged behind much of the country in adopting the technology.

State Police Commissioner Lieutenant Colonel Robert Evanchick announced this week that select patrol troopers in Uniontown, Fayette County (Troop B); Avondale, Chester County (Troop J); and Somerset Borough, Somerset County (Troop T), will be outfitted with body-worn cameras through the end of 2018.

"I am an ardent supporter of the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement," said Lieutenant Colonel Evanchick. "The real-world experiences and information learned through this pilot program will help the department fine-tune internal training, regulations and processes to ensure the department is best prepared for wider implementation."

The pilot program comes after the department was awarded a $52,000 grant last summer to develop policy and training around use of the body cameras. Funds were used to purchase approximately 30 cameras and create an an interim policy regulating equipment use, data storage, and duties and responsibilities related to the new technology.

Input on the policy was provided by various stakeholders including the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

Pennsylvania developed new rules around the use of body-worn cameras last year by addressing an existing conflict with the state's wiretap laws. 

While the move was applauded as a step toward greater transparency, critics complained that the process for citizens to obtain camera footage is held separate from Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law and the Office of Open Records. Residents must petition a court judge to order the release of footage captured by body cameras.

Troopers participating the in the state police pilot will be using cameras manufactured by WatchGuard video. Authorities said expansion of the program beyond the pilot will be constrained by the high cost of camera hardware, data storage and bandwidth. The department will continue to explore funding opportunities for wider use.

The procedure for individuals to request the release of footage from law enforcement body-worn cameras is available here.