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York officers wear body cameras in pilot test

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Mar 2, 2016 4:05 AM
York_police_body_camera.jpg

York City Police Officer James Knarr, wearing a body camera, listens to Chief Wes Kahley as he shares information about the new camera during a news conference at the police station on Tuesday. "We will be recording outside of residences." said Kahley in regard to the privacy of citizens and not video recording them in their homes.(Photo: Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record)

The city is the first department in York County to get them, officials said

(York) -- Fourteen York City Police officers were equipped on Tuesday with body cameras as the department began a three-month pilot program before it plans for each officer to wear them.

The cameras -- made by the same company that manufactures the department's in-car cameras -- will make the streets safer for both officers and residents, York Mayor C. Kim Bracey told reporters at a news conference.

"The body cameras will record accurate evidence and encourage all of us to be on our best behavior," Bracey said. "We will continue to work hard toward strengthening our community relations in addition to this tool."

To start the program, officers will only be getting video, not audio, because state wiretap laws prevent an officer from going into a private home and recording audio, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said.

The chief was hopeful those laws would soon change, something that York City Councilman Michael Helfrich says is in the best interest of introducing body cameras.

"Video without audio can be misleading," Helfrich said after the news conference.

The 14 officers  -- consisting of a sergeant, a lieutenant, neighborhood unit officers and regular patrol  -- will gather for weekly meetings to evaluate how the cameras are working, and how the community is reacting to them, Kahley said.

After three months, a decision will be made whether the cameras will be distributed department-wide.

Not recording all the time

Officers have the ability to turn the cameras on and off, Kahley said. They've been provided a list of certain instances when they can turn the camera off, something the officer needs to note in a report after each shift.

One such instance might be if a victim at a crime scene does not want to be identified, the chief said.

At the end of a shift, an officer will move the data from the camera's hard drive to a computer.

Video will not be recording all the time, because there would not be enough storage, Kahley said.

Recordings will be automatically deleted after one month.

That time frame is consistent with how long it takes for someone to file a citizen complaint with the police department, so Kahley wanted the video to be available if a complaint is filed.

Generally, officers can flag a video to be kept after the 30-day deleting point.

"It's obvious that our officers that are going out and they tape record something, they'll know whether they need it for evidentiary reasons," Kahley said.

York City Police, the mayor's office and the Fraternal Order of Police have been hashing out a policy over the last year. The body camera program in the city is the first such in York County.

Helfrich had concerns about each officers' ability to turn the cameras on and off, and thought it best to maximize the time the cameras are on.

The councilman said he has not seen a draft of the policy -- he said Kahley told him after the news conference that council would see the policy after the three-month trial period.

"This isn't being against anybody," he said, "this is how you're going to protect everybody."

Donation from Wellspan

York City Police purchased 100 body cameras from Digital Ally. The cameras come with a charger for the wall and car. A hard drive is placed in an officer's breast pocket while the camera is placed on the uniform's lapel.

Officer James Knarr demonstrated how a red light goes on above the camera lens while video is being recorded. The hard drive vibrates to let the officer know the camera is on, Knarr said.

WellSpan helped fund the $100,000 purchase through an annual donation of $1 million, WellSpan president Keith Noll said.

"Recognizing the economic challenges the city has been facing...WellSpan has expanded its support of our first responders through an increased annual donation," Noll said.

The monetary contributions to the city are part of a partnership established to, in part, support health and safety in York.

*This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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