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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 12, 2016 03:39 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Body Cameras for Police and Other Recordings
I intend to reintroduce Senate Bill 976 of last session to amend the Wiretap Act to enable police officers to use body-worn cameras. Police officers are under heightened scrutiny in the wake of several well-publicized instances of lethal force. Long before these incidents occurred, I worked extensively with law enforcement agencies, District Attorneys, and judges throughout the Commonwealth to find ways to ensure the integrity of criminal convictions. The Judiciary Committee held hearings in Pittsburgh and Montgomery County, and there is overwhelming support for the use of body cameras to capture statements made and actions taken during law enforcement encounters with the public.

The use of body-worn cameras not only ensures the integrity of convictions by capturing the defendant’s conduct at the scene, but the cameras also have ancillary benefits. Law enforcement agencies around the country that have used body-worn cameras report a sharp decline in suppression hearings and a concomitant increase in guilty pleas. They report a decline in administrative complaints and civil lawsuits against their officers. Generally, these agencies have concluded that body cameras have a civilizing effect on both the officers and the members of the public who are recorded.

Currently, the Wiretap Act does not permit officers to enter a private residence with an activated body-worn camera that audio-records conversations. My legislation will permit officers to do so, because so much of their work involves responding to incidents taking place inside a residence. Measures can be taken to protect the privacy of the occupants of the residence, and the recordings will enhance any prosecution of wrongdoers inside the residence. My bill will also permit officers to record interviews inside police facilities with suspects or witnesses. These are best practices for law enforcement that will enhance public safety, ensure the integrity of convictions, and promote trust in our police departments. Finally, the bill will correct an ambiguity in the Wiretap Act that was highlighted in a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision relating to recorded conversations inside prisons.

The Senate passed this bill by a vote of 45-5 during the last session. Please join me in supporting this bill by becoming a cosponsor.

Introduced as SB560