Police Body Cameras - Pittsburgh Criminal Attorney

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How Are Police Body Cameras Funded in Pittsburgh?

When a person is arrested, many questions may arise surrounding the legality and circumstances of that arrest. In an attempt to address the uncertainty of events, Pittsburgh utilizes body cameras on law enforcement officers. The city has recently released its guidelines for using those cameras in a safe and legal manner.

According to the Pittsburgh Police Department, it has about 170 cameras for its 800-member force. Officers may use those cameras when performing official duties; however, state laws prohibit the use of such cameras in certain situations.

Despite the push to have police use body cameras in Pittsburgh, people still debate their use. While often touted as the key to effective police reforms, body cameras are viewed by some to have a negative influence. The following are the top three pros and cons of police body camera use.

What is PA’s Policy on Body Camera Use?

Pittsburgh requires all officers who use body cameras to be properly trained on their use and the guidelines provided to ensure the privacy of individuals is preserved. Additionally, officers may not terminate the use of a body camera until an incident is complete.

Officers may use body cameras in the following situations:

  • During traffic and criminal enforcement stops
  • During police vehicle pursuits
  • When vehicle and criminal codes are being violated
  • At the scene of a fatal crash or major crime incident
  • To monitor DUI stops and standardized field sobriety tests
  • During pat downs and arrests
  • When obtaining consent to search

Restrictions on Body Cameras in Pennsylvania

Violating privacy rights is a major concern regarding body camera use. Innocent bystanders and victims often wish to remain anonymous. The Pittsburg Police Department also has restrictions on the use of body cameras to address these situations.

State wiretapping laws prohibit the use of body cameras inside a private residence unless permission is given to use such a device. Officers must announce the use of the camera and obtain consent from residence occupants. However, if individuals are in public locations where a crime is being or has been committed, there is no guarantee that they will not appear on camera.

Police department supervisors may view recordings for up to 90 days. After that time, if a camera does not contain evidence that is valuable in an investigation, the footage will be deleted. This ensures recordings of innocent people will not be stored for an indefinite period of time.

Pros of Police Body Camera Use

  • Wearing body cameras could prevent police abuse. When police know that they are being watched, they are more likely to use restraint with people and respect the rights of citizens. In cities where these cameras are already being used, there has been a significant reduction in police abuse and excessive force.
  • Officers who abuse their position can be held accountable, building the trust of communities. Many communities still feel resentful and distrustful of police. Having a real record of what has happened can let citizens understand what has happened. If there is video evidence abuse, there will be a better account of what really happened so necessary actions can be taken.
  • Body cameras can record valuable evidence and witness testimony for trials. In the disorder of a crime scene, law enforcement arriving on the scene could miss important evidence as time passes. Sometimes evidence is not captured properly, quickly, or appropriately. If there is a video record of what officers heard and saw, key evidence can be saved.

Cons of Police Body Camera Use

  • Body cameras could invade privacy. There are still many legal questions about privacy issues concerning both the officers themselves and anyone unwittingly filmed on a police body camera. It is not clear whether or not officers can film a residence or private property without a warrant, for example. There will need to be transparency about these issues.
  • Policies about body camera use may not be followed, leading to an unfair bias against complaints made about unfilmed incidents. If officers can turn off cameras at any time, facts about incidents may be obscured. On the other hand, anything not filmed may reflect badly on officers unfairly. The limits of what is caught on film could bias the account of events and limit their effectiveness.
  • Body cameras could intimidate witnesses and victims. Body cameras could be a serious problem in sensitive situations, such as domestic abuse or sexual assault cases. Body cameras are meant to help innocent citizens, so if images were made public without consent, a real privacy violation may have occurred.

As the debate continues, we will inevitably see more efforts to address all concerns about body cameras addressed. Here in Pittsburgh, though, body cameras look like they are here to stay. Hopefully, they will succeed in ensuring that every citizen’s rights are respected. In the meantime, you will need to continue to count on other checks to police power to ensure your rights are respected.

How Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You

There are many guidelines that restrict the use of body cameras by Pittsburgh law enforcement officers. Although cameras can be beneficial, they can also violate your right to privacy. If body camera video footage was obtained during an incident in which you were involved, contact the experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness to find out if your rights were violated. If you believe that you are a suspect of a crime or have been arrested, an experienced Pittsburgh criminal attorney is your best protection.

Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation on your particular situation with a Pittsburgh criminal attorney. We will always fight for your rights.