Body-cam pilot extending another month

Sean Philip Cotter
  • York City Police body cameras record video and audio in public spaces.
  • The cameras are turned off in people's homes.

The York City Police Department's body-camera pilot program will keep running for about another month.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley

The original three-month program, which started in February, now will go through June, according to York City Police Chief Wes Kahley. After that, he said, the plan is to expand the program from the 14 officers involved in the pilot to the entire force.

Kahley said he hasn't had a final conversation with York City Mayor Kim Bracey about making any timelines official yet. Bracey said in her State of the City address in April that the plan was to expand the program to the entire force over the course of the summer.

The reason for the extension is that the department only recently turned the audio-recording function of the cameras on, Kahley said.

York City Police body cams begin recording audio

At the Feb. 15 news conference announcing the body-cam program and in interviews in the weeks following, Kahley said the cameras would be recording video but not audio, based on concerns the department had over the state's wiretap law. The law forbids people from making audio recordings of conversations without the consent of all being recorded.

An exception has been carved out for law enforcement in public places, but officers aren't allowed to record audio inside private residences. So Kahley, worried that his officers might face legal consequences for a slip-up in which they recorded inside a building, decided to leave the audio-recording function off.

The 14 officers were recording video during all responses to calls and in official interactions with members of the public but were turning the video off when they entered people's homes, even though the law allows for video recording by officers in private residences.

Then, on May 10, police announced they would start recording audio. The cameras would record both video and audio outside in public spaces, but officers would turn off both when they entered a home, Kahley said.

Body cameras: Your right to know

He said in these first few weeks since they flipped the audio switch, that's been working just fine legally and functionally.

"We haven't seen any real problems," he said. He said his officers have been "very cognizant" of turning the cameras off before they go somewhere they aren't allowed to record.

And, Kahley said, there are exceptions in the law for "exigent circumstances" — emergencies when officers might suddenly have to run into a home without having the chance to turn their cameras off.

York City Police release body-cam policy

Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney at the Philadelphia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said much the same. When she spoke to The York Dispatch in March, she said she couldn't imagine a situation in which an officer responding to a sudden emergency in a home would be charged with violating the wiretap law.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.