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All Pittsburgh police set to wear cameras by next year

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 4:36 p.m.
Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Ed Trapp demonstrates how to use a body-worn camera.
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Ed Trapp demonstrates how to use a body-worn camera.

By next year, all Pittsburgh police officers should be equipped with and wearing body cameras while on patrol, city officials said Tuesday.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert and other top police officials met with City Council members to update them about the police camera program. City officials have been debating for years about whether to expand the use of the cameras because of concerns about recording in private homes and the costs associated with equipping officers and storing video.

“The goal is to have enough to outfit all of the police officers currently employed by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police,” Hissrich said. “We didn't want to move too aggressively on the body-worn cameras only to have the legislature change something.”

Hissrich said 147 officers — members of motorcycle and bicycle patrols and patrol officers who volunteered for a pilot program — currently wear cameras while on duty.

He said the city has 150 additional cameras waiting for officers to be trained in their use. He plans to order another 250 cameras later this year. The cameras cost about $500 apiece.

Mayor Bill Peduto and council have supported expanded use, but the city delayed implementation because of a state wiretapping law that prohibits officers from filming inside a residence without the owner's permission.

The state Senate on Tuesday amended the law, clearing the way for officers to use the cameras inside homes. Gov. Wolf said he would sign the bill.

Officers will be equipped with “torso mounted” cameras that can attach magnetically without wiring to shirt or jacket pockets, said Cmdr. Ed Trapp. He said all officres who respond to calls would be required to wear them.

The city employs about 900 officers. Assistant City Solicitor John Doherty said the proposed state law gives county district attorneys, including Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., authority to determine whether or not to release police videos to the public. If denied, requesters can appeal in common pleas court, he said. “Release of the information may be prejudicial to a defendant who has constitutional rights that must be respected and protected as well as it could taint a jury pool,” Doherty said. “It's all going to be subject to a fact-by-fact, case-by-case scenario.”

Councilman Dan Gilman of Squirrel Hill said he was concerned that police officers and residents who may be accused of something could be denied access to videos that might clear them.

“My understanding of state law is they're tying it so much to the evidential side and the jury pool and those pieces that we're going to be sitting on video evidence of a situation that could protect a citizen, protect an officer, wherever the facts may lie,” Gilman said. Schubert, who has worn body cameras before he became chief, described them as a “great resource.”

“It protects the officer and it protects the public outside,” he said. “It keeps everybody accountable. I think it's a good thing.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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