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Pittsburgh police to outfit all officers with cameras, test new technology

Bob Bauder
469645bodycamera
A body-worn camera used by Pittsburgh police.

All Pittsburgh police officers, including the chief, will be wearing body cameras in 2019, and the department plans to test new technology that would activate a camera as soon as an officer pulls a weapon, officials said.

The department has outfitted 535 of its nearly 900 officers with cameras that cost about $500 apiece, according to Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri. He said the department plans to order 400 more in 2019.

“That would be for everyone,” he said. “Exceptions would be undercover officers.”

Cmdr. Ed Trapp, who heads the Special Deployment and Public Safety Planning divisions, said motorcycle and bicycle officers received the department’s first cameras in 2012.

He’s since advocated for updates that would turn the cameras on automatically.

Pittsburgh police use two models of body cameras, both made by Axon, formerly known as Taser International. Any camera within a 30-yard radius will activate when an officer turns on a patrol car’s lights and sirens during a “hot call.”

Trapp said the department will test a sensor attached to a holster that can activate cameras when an officer pulls a weapon.

“The one that they developed does not work with the holsters that we currently use,” Trapp said. “They’re in the process of designing one for our style holster. It has to fit the holster without interfering with the operation of drawing a firearm from a holster and that kind of thing. We want it. Chief (Scott) Schubert is very interested in getting that for us.”

He said Schubert has been wearing a camera for several years.

Trapp said officers are trained to turn on cameras during an incident, but they can forget during an urgent call.

“Under the stress of having to draw your gun in a deadly force encounter, thinking to turn on your body-worn camera is not going to be your first thought,” he said.

The department intends to push ahead with mandating camera use despite a pending complaint the police union has filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that could derail the program.

The Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1 in February filed unfair labor practice charges, contending the city is in violation of the police contract by forcing officers to wear cameras and not offering them an option to review footage before being questioned after a serious incident.

Togneri declined to comment.

Trapp said cameras benefit officers and the public, particularly during incidents involving the use of deadly force.

“It gives the public more faith in what happens,” he said. “It shows what happened from the viewpoint of an officer involved. Numerous studies have shown that complaints go down drastically and the use of force drops when there are body-worn cameras involved.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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