York City School police to use body cameras
York City School District Police soon will join York City Police and other police departments nationwide in wearing body cameras.
At Wednesday night's school board meeting, school police Chief Mike Muldrow told the board that all school officers will be wearing body cameras beginning in January. The decision is the result of a grant the school received from the Pennsylvania Office for Safe Schools.
The grant, which was for $25,000, was used to purchase 14 body cameras, which allows for one for each of the 11 full-time officers in addition to having extras for part-time officers, Muldrow said. There were funds left over, which were used to purchase new 911 radios that needed to be updated in the next year.
Each day, officers will check out a body camera before starting their shift. The cameras will not be on at all times, Muldrow said, but an officer can turn on the device in high-stress situations that might require force, when someone is in danger or if the footage might need to be reviewed again at a later date. The cameras are turned on by the officer saying "camera" three times.
Criteria will be discussed for when officers should be turning on their cameras, but Muldrow said often it will depend on the situation. A situation where a someone might have a weapon, could cause harm to others or might need to be physically restrained or violent situations in general should be recorded, he said.
The camera model was chosen specifically because it has a front-facing screen. This means the subject being recorded will be able to easily see that they are being recorded, but the officers also will announce the recording upon activating their body cameras. Muldrow said this aligns well with the district's commitment to transparency, but it's also a deterrent for bad behavior.
"When a person sees themselves behaving poorly, knowing they’re being recorded, it’s had the effect of deterring negative behavior," Muldrow said.
While the cameras will be helpful for officers, Muldrow said administrators can benefit as well. If an administrator is in a situation they think should be recorded or could be de-escalated by the presence of a camera, they can call for a camera, and an officer will arrive at the scene, say "camera, camera, camera," and record the situation.
Erin James, school district spokeswoman, said in an interview that the district will not be using cameras to record bad behavior. School police are, first and foremost, there for safety and not for discipline, she said.
After the recording is finished, the video will be uploaded to a server and will be saved for whatever time is determined by administrators and school police. Parents will be notified if there is a situation in which their child was recorded and will be able to see the video upon filling out necessary forms, Muldrow said. Parents will only be able to view their child on the video; all other children will have their faces blurred out.
Muldrow said he is unaware of any other school police department that uses body cameras. York City Police began using body cameras this year.
York City School District Police anticipate to begin wearing the body cameras Jan. 11.
“It’s another example of how we have taken the lead when it comes to being proactive and when it comes to being transparent," Superintendent Eric Holmes said.