State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Police blooper prompts bill to let cops roll tape

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 4, 2013 5:52 PM
TASER camera.jpg

Photo by TASER International, Inc.

TASER's AXON Flex camera.

One police department's mistake has given rise to an effort to change state wiretap law.

Last year, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police dropped $111,000 on wearable video cameras for its officers.

Such cameras, which would record audio as well as video, are illegal according to state wiretap law unless they're mounted in vehicles. So, the state Senate has moved to legalize cameras that can be worn by police on foot (or on a motorcycle, bicycle, or horse).

"When there is an interaction between a law enforcement officer and an individual, the recording device protects both the officer and the individual," wrote the bill's sponsor, Sen.Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) in a memo.

"We knew there was this issue in Pittsburgh, but it's also a policy issue," said Gregg Warner, an aide to Greenleaf. "This makes sense for police departments."

But Andy Hoover, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the legislation needs more protections for citizens.

"If the police are going to be able to use body-mounted cameras, then they need to truly use them," Hoover said, voicing concerns that the legislation should expressly prohibit police from shutting off cameras and eliminating potentially useful records of their on-duty behavior. "They should not have the power or the discretion to turn off the cameras when it's convenient for them."

The legislation has cleared the state Senate by an overwhelming vote and now goes before House lawmakers.

This entry has been updated since its original posting.

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