Local Police Investigate Options for Equipping Officers with Body Cameras

CLEARFIELD – In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and the riots in Ferguson, local police officers are considering options on how to better protect themselves and the public.

In a recent interview, Police Chief Vince McGinnis said the Clearfield Borough Police Department and other departments are investigating the possibility of equipping their patrol officers with body cameras.

“We wanted to be proactive,” McGinnis said. “After the situation in Missouri, we talked about ways we could prevent something like that from happening here. We might only have 1.8 square miles, but you never know when something like that could happen. We talked about ways to protect the citizens as well as to protect the police officers.”

Depending on the make and model, the cameras could be either tubular devices, which could be mounted to a pair of glasses or square devices, about the size of a pager or CB radio microphone, which would be mounted to the officer’s uniform shirt.

McGinnis said the cameras could be equipped with night vision, high fidelity speaker, microphones and a LCD screen for playback. He said the cameras would have a 170 degree field of view.

He said while the cameras could be equipped to record sound, it is unclear how the devices would fit into Pennsylvania’s wiretap laws.

“It’s something we’d have to work on,” McGinnis said. “There are ways to use the cameras and voice recording and still work within the law. The officer would have to notify the person that they are being recorded.”

McGinnis said the borough’s purchase of the cameras is in the very early stages.

“We’re still researching what kind we’re going to get,” he said. “They vary in price and they can range from very high-tech to just your basic camera. There are models where the officers can unhook them and plug them into the dock and the videos will automatically download into a database. There are less expensive models where the officers would have to come in and download the information manually and that will take time for the officers to do.”

McGinnis said there are both pros and cons to purchasing the cameras.

“It can help when the case goes to trial, because the videos can be used as evidence. It can help with investigations, it can help cut down on complaints against the officers, because everything will be recorded, similar to what they do with the dash-cameras in the patrol cars,” McGinnis said.

He said the department will need to work with the borough council and the solicitor to establish policies and procedures on how and when the cameras will be used.

“It’s going to be a lot more work than we anticipated,” McGinnis said. “Anytime we get a piece of equipment like this, there has to be rules and regulations on how it’s used within the department and that can take time to get those set down.”

He said there will also have to be procedures in place for how long the department will have to keep the video footage on file as part of their chain of evidence.

McGinnis said the department applied for grants and procured donations to help pay for the cameras but said the department is still researching exactly what model of cameras they will be using.

“We’re going to keep working on it. It’s in the very early stages, but it’s something that can be a really great tool for the department, once it’s in place.” McGinnis said.

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