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Pennsylvania State Police to test body cameras in 2018 — footage not public

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This Jan. 15, 2014 file photo shows a Los Angeles Police officer wearing an on-body cameras during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles.

Louisiana this summer became the first state to roll out body cameras to all 700 of its state troopers.

Col. Tyree Blocker, Pennsylvania's state police commissioner, wants cameras for his troopers, but funding needs to be in place for the cameras and the software to store footage, state police spokesman Cpl. Adam Reed said.

Pennsylvania has nearly 4,300 troopers that would be wearing body cams, Reed said — more than six times the number in Louisiana.

A Pennsylvania law that took effect in September allows audio and video to be recorded inside homes with the body cameras, removing previous limitations on where police could record, Reed said. Since then, the state police have been taking steps to get the cameras.

In July, the state police announced plans to launch a body camera pilot program using a $52,000 federal grant.

About 30 troopers are scheduled to start wearing the cameras by March, Reed said.

Once Pennsylvania troopers get body cameras, the new state law allows them to treat the footage the same as dash cam footage and withhold it from the public, even when the investigation closes, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association.

“One of the main purposes for gathering incident video is that there's an impartial record of what actually happened,” Melewsky said. “If they are not made public, it defeats the purpose of gathering them in the first place.”

The only way to get the footage is if it is presented in court as evidence, but that's only possible if there is a trial and usually there is a plea bargain instead, Melewsky said.

Scholars estimate about 90 to 95 percent of federal and state court cases are resolved through plea bargaining, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The only way to appeal denial of the police footage is to file a lawsuit, instead of the normal process of filing an appeal to the Office of Open Records, Melewsky said.

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