Study finds majority of Pennsylvanians want police to wear body cameras

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LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - The public's opinion of police is the focus of a new study done by Penn State Harrisburg.

The study finds the majority of Pennsylvanians would feel safer if police officers were equipped with body cameras.

The York City Police Department has a body camera for every officer in the department and feels good about the technology.

In Lancaster county, departments don't have them yet, but say the technology is definitely on their radar.

“Cameras are coming, and I think we're going to embrace it, and work with it, but we have to get it right,” said Lieutenant Jonathan Heisse with New Holland Police.

Police departments like New Holland in Lancaster county say they have to get body cameras right because a Penn State study found that 88 percent of Pennsylvanians in a survey of 579 people would feel safer if police wore the technology.

"We support the body cameras. We're in favor of doing that,” Lieutenant Heisse explained.

Only 4 percent of people in the study strongly disagreed.

"Right now, we're waiting on the guidance of the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office,” he said.

And waiting on answers concerning the cost of the technology, how departments will store the large amount of data, and the legality of the cameras.

"I think it's accountability. I think it gives the public a view of what the officer saw at the time,” Lieutenant Heisse said.

In York, police use the body cameras every day.

"It protects us as police,” said Lieutenant Matt Leitzel with York City Police.

As soon as a police officer is in an emergency situation where sirens or lights are turned on, this camera gets activated and immediately starts recording both audio and video.

110 body cameras, one for every officer with the York City Police Department.

"It backs us up when we're doing the right thing,” Lieutenant Leitzel explained.

And one citizen sees the body cameras as the right thing for the city.

"I definitely think it's beneficial for both the citizen and the police. Both for their safety's. Also, you never know who is in the right or the wrong, and it's always good to have that extra footage,” said Corey Price from York.

The video is kept for 30 days unless flagged for a case or investigation.

“Again, the officers don't like living in a fish bowl, but the reality is that they do and they're getting videoed all the time so why not have their own video?” said Chief Wes Kahley with the York City Police Department.

It’s a lot of data and man hours pulling video.

According to Chief Kahley, it's a great help in cases and with complaints.

"There's a lot of things that happen off camera that you won't necessarily get, but we've had a tremendous amount of success so far,” he added.

FOX 43 reached out to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office, and a spokesperson said quote:

"Our office and many police officers in lancaster are in favor of the body cameras - in concept. When you sit down and think about the mammoth costs and manpower they would require to operate and maintain, that’s where we see real issues. Issues, under current budget restrictions and state law, appear insurmountable without real change. The footage from these cameras – countless hours – would have to be archived and stored so recordings are available for all discovery requests for court, and right-to-know requests. Also, under state wiretap law, officers would not be permitted to record at private residences and locations. The cameras would have to be turned off before officers enter a home. That also presents much difficulty. The right to know requests could occupy some of the smaller municipalities to the point where they couldn't afford to field them all, under current law.”

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