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Justice Department grant helps Newberry Township equip police with body cameras

Harper Ho
York Dispatch
It's unclear how many law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania are even equipped with body cameras.

The Newberry Township Police Department has equipped all of its officers with body cameras with the help of a grant from the Justice Department.

Chief Steven Lutz said all 17 members of the department have worn body cameras since last year, thanks in part to a $16,750 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Chiefs’ of Police Association and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Lutz said it's becoming more common practice for police departments to issue body cameras to their officers. 

"I just want to stress that our agency is trying to be transparent by placing these body cameras on the officers, and the cameras are there to not only protect the citizens of Newberry Township and the municipalities in which we serve as well as the individuals that visit out community, (but also) the officers (themselves)," Lutz said. 

The department got the body cameras and trained for about two weeks in September before going live, Lutz said, adding the total cost of the project was $32,602.40, with the township paying for half and the grant covering half.

Police departments across the country having been operating under a microscope as the public protests and demands accountability for police-involved shootings or encounters that end in a death. 

Republican state Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, presents newly appointed and sworn in Newberry Township Police Chief Steven Lutz with a proclamation from the state House of Representatives.

Lutz said that for his department, he believes body cameras can protect officers if there are complaints about their actions.

"I believe with everything that's occurring in our society, I believe the officers' actions and activities — it should be recorded," he said. "As we know, people are recording the police on a daily basis. It'd be nice to have the full account of what actually occurred."

Lutz said the body cameras aren't set up to record 24/7 and are synced to the patrol car cameras, working in tandem. 

"Our policy was vetted by outside parties. Our policy is consistent with the common practices of anybody else that uses body cameras in the United States," Lutz said. "But there was a strict guideline that needed to be met in order to secure that funding." 

Lutz said officers can turn off their cameras for certain circumstances, such as talking to a confidential informant.

"In order to do so they need to — per policy — need to explain why they're turning it off. The policy doesn't allow them to just turn it off. They need to explain why they're turning it off prior to turning it off," he said. 

The public can request a copy of the policy, Lutz said, and footage stays saved, depending on the case, for a maximum of 731 days and minimum of 90 days.  

The York Dispatch requested a copy of the policy Thursday and received it later that day. 

Lutz said the public can request to see the footage as long as the request meets Pennsylvania's open records law.

"Obviously if that video is part of an open investigation, it would just have to meet all the prongs of the Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law in order for us to release it," he said. "That's only because if there's an open investigation going on, it wouldn't be right to release the video."