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Corbett says he will sign legislation allowing cameras to be mounted on police officers' bodies

Taser
Product photograph of the Axon Flex personal video camera system from Taser. Pittsburgh police bought 50 cameras they can mount on glasses, helmets, or lapels for motorcycle and bicycle officers. The cameras will help with complaints against officers.

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By Margaret Harding
Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 11:27 p.m.
 

Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign legislation that would allow Pittsburgh police to use its long-dormant $143,000 stockpile of small helmet- and lapel-mounted video cameras.

The state House and Senate passed Senate Bill 57 last week, which would change the wiretap law to authorize officers to put recording devices on motorcycles, bicycles or their bodies. Current law requires powering such devices from a police cruiser.

“It's a valuable tool both for us and the public, and it would be good to get it back in operation,” said Lt. Ed Trapp, who oversees intelligence and planning.

Jay Pagni, a Corbett spokesman, said on Monday that the governor plans to sign the legislation soon.

Pittsburgh spent more than $143,000 to buy 50 TASER International Axon Flex personal video camera systems in 2012. Officers could wear the cameras on helmets or lapels to record what they see and hear. The torpedo-shaped cameras are about three inches long, and the controller units are about the same height and width as a credit card.

Pittsburgh police used them from September 2012 until February 2013 before realizing the devices were not approved for police use, Trapp said. The department took them off the streets still uses them in training exercises, Trapp said.

Lawmakers this fall amended Senate Bill 57 to include the recording exception for law enforcement officers. It was introduced in January 2013 to permit audio recording on school buses. The bill passed the state Senate in a 49-1 vote.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said the cameras would be an effective tool for police officers, but he voted against the bill because it wasn't explicit about how the cameras can be used.

“The law should've given a more strict constraint on how police use those cameras,” Ferlo said. “It should be video without the potential for editing. That wasn't spelled out in the bill.”

Under the proposed law, police would not be permitted to record in homes and would have to notify whomever they record as soon as reasonably practical.

Police plan to wait until the state police add the cameras to its approved devices list before using them, Trapp said.

“I don't anticipate any problems,” he said. “Back when I found out there was a problem, I've been in touch with (state police) periodically, so they're familiar with the device.”

Trooper Adam Reed, a state police spokesman, said he couldn't provide a timeline for adding the cameras to the list.

“It sets the standard of what law enforcement in Pennsylvania can use,” Reed said. “It would be a thorough analysis.”

Trapp said police have examined model policies for the on-officer camera as they work to write their own. He expects motorcycle officers and bicycle officers to receive them once they are approved.

“For the public, I think it gives them more confidence in what the officers are doing,” Trapp said. “Any review of the tape will show what the officer was already seeing.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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