No police body cams in city schools until policy created

Alyssa Pressler
  • The school police were originally hoping to begin wearing the cameras this week on Jan. 11.
  • However, they will wait to wear the body cameras until a protocol is in place.

Officers patrolling York City schools won't be wearing body cameras just yet.

York City School District Police Chief Mike Muldrow told the school board last month that his officers could begin wearing body cameras as soon as Wednesday, but the district is now waiting until a policy guiding use of the devices is adopted and publicized.

York City School Police Officer Quinn Johnson demonstrates a body camera that will be used by all school police officers soon.

The Wednesday start date was already tentative because it depended on the district receiving the necessary server and software to store the recorded videos, Muldrow said at the board meeting. However, district spokeswoman Erin James said no officers would be wearing a body camera until the chief finished drafting a policy on the use of the cameras.

"We want to make sure the public knows what the cameras are for," she said. "We want to make sure everyone knows the rationale for this."

EDITORIAL: First a policy, then body cams in school

That policy will be based on those of other police departments that are using body cameras, she said. Once Muldrow has finished with his draft, Superintendent Eric Holmes will need to sign off on the final version. Because the cameras fall under standard operating procedures, the school board will not need to vote to approve the policy.

The police department used a $25,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Office for Safe Schools to purchase 14 body cameras, which allows one for each of the full-time officers in addition to having extras for part-time officers.

The school board was supportive of the new initiative at the Dec. 21 meeting, and President Margie Orr reaffirmed that commitment Tuesday, saying the cameras will help the administration get first-hand information related to difficult situations.

School board President Margie Orr speaks during the York City school board meeting at the School District for the City of York Administration Building in York City, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. It was proposed, at the meeting, that all home football games be held at 12:00PM on Saturdays, in light of recent shooting of two men during William Penn High School's season-opening football game at Small Athletic Field. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"You'll see everything that went down," she said.

The U.S. Department of Justice and government watchdog organizations agree that police body cameras can be useful tools, but both recommend police departments adopt clear, public policies regarding use of cameras. The York City Police Department began using body cameras in 2016, and at first its policy was not public, though eventually that changed.

EDITORIAL: First a policy, then body cams in school

James said Holmes is committed to ensuring the policy is public, and when it is finished, it will be on the York City School District website. James was unsure of the timeline for the protocol to be approved, but she guessed a few weeks.

In announcing the new tools last month, Muldrow stressed that the cameras are a continuation of the district's commitment to transparency and openness with the community.

"With any type of policy, aside from obvious exceptions with privacy, the community has a right to know as much as possible," James said. "We want parents to trust us, we want the community to trust us. This is a matter of building and maintaining that trust."

Holmes and Muldrow did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.