When should the Philadelphia police use body cameras?

Body-worn cameras — commonly referred to as body cameras — have played an important role in policing for the past 10 years, and their footage has been a staple of the national conversation about high-profile brutality cases. The cameras are small and attach to the center of a police officer’s chest so they can record community interactions for accountability and transparency.

The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) is the fourth largest police department in the nation. And body cameras became part of PPD equipment in 2014, under a pilot program in the 22nd Districtwhich includes parts of Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown and Yorktown.

The initial program included only volunteer officers; in March 2018, it was extended to the rest of the districts. Body cameras have helped shed light on some major cases, like in the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. But sometimes there are no pictures, like in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Thomas Siderio.

So how are police body cameras in Philadelphia supposed to work? We’ve broken it down.


Philadelphia has 6,300 officers, including in uniform and without uniform. Only uniformed officers are equipped with body cameras. In total, of the 5,900 uniformed officers, 2,886 are trained and equipped with body cameras, according to police spokesman Cpl. Jasmine Reilly.

Before being fitted with body cameras, officers must complete a two-and-a-half hour training and study the body-worn camera directive (referred to as Guideline 4.21).

Keep in mind that police officers on duty are not permitted to use cameras, smartphones or any other personal recording equipment – ​​other than their body camera – to record their interaction with you.

According to Reilly, the goal is for all uniformed officers to have a body camera, but two districts have no body camera equipment (the Department does not specify which ones), and there is currently no timeline to find out. when it might happen. Reilly points to the cost: So far, the city has paid $2.5 million for the program, with most of the expense going toward storing and backing up camera footage.

No. Cameras are manually turned on and remain in “sleep” mode until the agent begins recording. The camera does not begin recording an interaction until the agent activates it.

Note: There is a 60 second delay between camera standby and recording modes. So for the first minute after an officer presses “record”, the camera will record footage, but no audio..

The American Civil Liberties Union recommended that police departments have cameras that automatically record 30 seconds of video and audio before TThe camera starts recording.

police department Politics say that cameras must be on in the following situations:

  1. When officers respond to a crime in progress.

  2. During a pursuit by vehicle or on foot.

  3. When investigating a vehicle or pedestrian.

  4. When the police are about to arrest or give someone a citation.

  5. When taking statements or information from victims or witnesses.

  6. During crises and troubles.

  7. At demonstrations and demonstrations.

  8. When officers are confronted with people they perceive as confrontational, antagonistic or hostile.

  9. If officers believe, based on their training, that the situation should be recorded.

  10. During “identification by appearance”: when the police bring a suspect to a victim or witness and ask them to identify whether the suspect was the perpetrator or not.

According to the ACLU, a “good body work camera policy» forces the police to record any encounter between them and a member of the publicand let the person know they are registered.

The PPD also states that if victims, witnesses or informants request not to be recorded, officers should be able to decide whether or not to disable the camera.

Although it is best for the police to record all interactions with the community, you are still entitled to an expectation of confidentiality. And agents aren’t allowed to trick you into thinking the camera didn’t record, if it didn’t.

Here are the scenarios where the police should not activate their body camera:

  1. Inside locker rooms, locker rooms, washrooms or anywhere there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

  2. If the agent is having a non-work related personal conversation.

  3. During personal non-work related police activity.

  4. During conversations with confidential informants and undercover agents.

  5. During non-work related conversations with other police officers or supervisors.

No. According to Reilly, the camera should remain on for the duration of the interaction, from the time the police arrest you until they take you into custody (if that is the case).

But there are exceptions:

  1. When someone’s private body parts are exposed.

  2. When the scene contains “horrifying images”.

  3. Every time you enter a religious institution, during a service.

  4. Whenever you enter a hospital room or a private area for patients.

  5. Whenever officers protect a crime scene.

In each of these cases, the officer is expected to say the reason aloud before turning off the camera. And if the interaction continues but the exception is passed, they have to reactivate the camera.

According to the ACLU, body cameras are “as good as the policies put in place to ensure they live up to their potential.” If officers do not follow these policies, the ACLU recommended disciplinary actions.

Reilly says mistakes can happen, but officers are supposed to start recording as soon as they realize the camera isn’t on. If they do not fully document an interaction, officers are required to notify their supervisor and document the fact that they forgot to record, along with the reason.

Once the situation is over, officers take their body cameras to a docking station, where the data is transferred to the district’s Body Worn Camera server. At this point, only agents, investigators and supervisors have access to it.

Once the data has been transferred, the docking station removes the memory from the camera. Everything recorded is the property of the Department: Agents are not permitted to erase, alter, modify or tamper with any body camera software, wires, batteries, lenses, buttons, recorded audio, video or any related data.

Once the information is downloaded, a supervisor goes through it. If something needs immediate attention, supervisors can send videos for investigation.

Body cameras are meant to protect both community members and police officers.

For the ACLU, body cameras can “increase transparency and accurately document interactions between police and community members.”

Reilly agrees, “The camera is a universal witness, it doesn’t lie,” but warns that sometimes cameras don’t show the whole interaction. “There are sometimes instances where things can happen behind the officer and the camera doesn’t pick it up,” she says. In these cases, the police rely on the cameras of other officers and outside sources.

According to Philadelphia police directivethey serve six main purposes:

  1. Build public trust by showing real interactions between citizens and officers.

  2. Document statements and events.

  3. Document and review statements and actions for reporting requirements and courtroom preparation.

  4. Preserve visual and audio information for current and future investigations.

  5. Provide self-criticism and field evaluations during officer training.

If the police fail to record an interaction with you, stop recording without following protocol, tamper with footage, or abuse the community, they may be disciplined or potentially fired. Sanctions can include a reprimand, suspension, or worse, and are meant to escalate if an officer repeats the offense within a year. Two incidents can result in a 30-day suspension; a third time may be grounds for dismissal.

Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky advises to generally cooperate when interacting with the police, and if you think something was inappropriate, abusive or unfair, you can file a complaint with the internal affairs of the police.

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