Pittsburgh is the latest major U.S. city to invest in the use of body worn cameras for police officers. According to Pittsburgh police department officials, all police officers will be wearing body cameras in 2019. The department is also planning on testing new technology that is designed to activate an officer's body camera as soon as they pull a weapon.
According to Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri, the Pittsburgh police department has already outfitted a sizeable portion of the city's force with body-worn cameras. Of the department's nearly 900 officers, 535 are currently equipped with body cameras that cost about $500 apiece. In 2019, the department plans to order 400 more cameras to properly equip the rest of the department.
The only officers exempt from wearing the body cameras will be those who are working undercover. Even the chief of Pittsburgh police will be required to wear a body cam under the department's recent initiative.
The first Pittsburgh officers to consistently wear body cameras were motorcycle and bicycle officers. They've been wearing the devices since 2012. A Pennsylvania law formerly restricted officers from recording footage inside of a private residence, so the department chose to focus dispensing cameras to cycle officers because they do not often enter private residences.
The process of switching a body camera on and off has proven tricky for officers when they're in the middle of an urgent situation, but new camera technology may provide a solution. Currently, the Pittsburgh police department uses two models of body cameras both made by Axon. These cameras automatically turn on when in a 30-yard radius of an officer turning on the lights and sirens of a patrol car during a hot call. The department will soon test a sensor attached to a holster that activates cameras when an officer pulls a weapon.
According to Cmdr. Ed Trapp, head of the Special Deployment and Public Safety Planning divisions, the current sensors do not fit the holsters that the Pittsburgh police department uses. They are in the process of designing a sensor that would not interfere with the act of pulling a weapon out of the holster.
As a state, Pennsylvania has been slow to adopt universal policies of police wearing body cameras and departments using in car cams. Although Pennsylvania state troopers have been using in car cams for years, the state law does not require officers of any department to wear body cameras.
Despite the differing opinions throughout the state, Trapp supports the use of equipment like in car cams and body cameras. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 66% of officers and 93% of the public are in favor of police officers using body cameras to record interactions with citizens. Trapp agrees and maintains that the cameras benefit both officers and the public, especially in incidents that involve the use of force.
"It gives the public more faith in what happens. It shows what happened from the viewpoint of an officer involved," he said.