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Editorials

Police body cams: On net, a positive move

| Monday, June 8, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

A promising opportunity to equip all Pittsburgh police officers with body cameras — and to clear a legal obstacle to police using them statewide — must not be missed.

Suspects' deaths at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Baltimore have increased distrust of police, making such cameras more appealing. A local “best practices” group is advocating for the cameras. It includes Duquesne University law professor John Rago, Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala and county President Judge Jeff Manning. And its work on eyewitness testimony and documenting interrogations has made it a statewide model.

About 35 City of Pittsburgh bicycle and motorcycle officers are piloting body camera use in Pennsylvania. But equipping patrol officers is problematic because the state's wiretap law requires permission for recording inside homes and buildings. Working with the group, state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, is preparing legislation to create an exception to the law to allow such use.

Some civil libertarians are wary of this exception. We do not dismiss their concerns lightly. In fact, we share many of them. After all, we have become the Surveilled States of America.

But given that body cameras can protect citizens and officers alike from unjust accusations, deter public and police misconduct and reduce litigation costs, Mr. Greenleaf's measure appears to strike the necessary and proper balance.

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