Police bodycam reforms bill passes Pa. House

David Weissman
York Dispatch
York City Police Lt. Erik Kleynen demonstrates how officers wear new body cameras, Friday,  March 11, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

A bill that would allow law enforcement to use body cameras inside residences might soon be headed to the governor's desk after passing the state House on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 560, which is intended to increase the use of police bodycams throughout the state, passed in the House 185-9 after passing in the Senate unanimously in May.

The Senate will still need to vote on concurrence because the House Judiciary Committee approved several amendments, although a committee spokesman said the amendments were minor language alterations.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf's office said the governor supports the bill as a step in the right direction. The office evaluating a Tuesday decision by the Supreme Court on releasing dash cam footage in regard to concerns over transparency, according to J.J. Abbott.

York City: The York City Police Department is currently one of just a handful of agencies in the state using bodycams, and Chief Wes Kahley said the department has been seeing numerous benefits from their usage.

"Everybody behaves differently when you know you're being watched," Kahley said, pointing out that officers and residents are more likely to behave humanely with the presence of a camera.

The biggest issue with using body cameras in the state — and the one most cited by police departments hesitant to adopt their usage — is potential liability for violations of state wiretapping laws, Kahley said.

Wiretap laws: Removing those liabilities is a primary purpose for the bill, according to a spokesman for the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Patrick Cawley, executive director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bill would essentially mean wiretap laws don't apply to police bodycams unless law enforcement doesn't have constitutional authority to enter a residence.

Right to Know: Another part of the bill, which has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, states that the recordings will not be subject to the state's Right-to-Know law.

Someone wanting a copy of a recording must submit a written request to the police department in possession of the recording and, if denied, can then appeal to the county's Court of Common Pleas.

Elizabeth Randol, a spokeswoman for ACLU of Pennsylvania, said her organization understands the need to protect residents' privacy but said this bill overdoes that effort and will make it nearly impossible to obtain any footage — inside or outside of a residence.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.