It’s the unbiased witness: Choosing no sides, merely relaying what is seen by the police officer wearing it. It’s a body-worn camera.
Those cameras were the subject of a special Public Safety Committee meeting held at Carlisle Borough Hall, 53 W. South St., at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.
Police have concerns because residents may not want to speak once they know they’re being recorded, over the officer’s own privacy, and the fear the device won’t work. Residents too have concerns, namely privacy, but the benefit far outweighs any concerns, according to Lt. Clarence Trapp of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, who delivered a presentation on body cameras.
“If it shuts down even one lawsuit, it’s worth the cost; if it clears one officer, it’s great, you invest lot of money in each officer. On the other side, if it helps you get rid of a bad officer, it’s priceless,” Trapp said. “We do kind of look out for each other, but no good cop wants a bad cop. And when you’re overseeing it, you want to get rid of that potential problem.
“You as citizens certainly don’t want to encounter a bad police officer,’ he added. “Police departments run on having the trust of the public, and we have to earn that trust, and historically police have burned through that trust, especially with the minority communities.”
The current landscape of relations between police and minority — specifically black — communities, was a topic raised at the meeting.
Trapp mentioned the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which spurred nationwide awareness to the usefulness of body cameras.
“Only two people know exactly what happened, and one of them is dead,” he said, referring to Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot and killed Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. “We’ll probably never know exactly what happened there, but if there were a body-worn camera, we might know.”
One resident, Anthony Stackfield, said that he doesn’t believe the cameras are “helping the kids dying every day,” and touched upon the many incidents of police shootings involving young black people.
“I probably put this through a lot when I was young,” Stackfield said, turning to point toward recently retired Police Chief Stephen Margeson, who sat alone in the back of the room. “But the thing about it is our mistakes we did when we was young still carries, so I don’t think the cameras are the ones that are helping. Kids are dying. Why can’t a bad cop get fired for too many complaints, and there’s been a lot of bad things in Carlisle, PA.”
Trap said he agreed with Stackfield, and that as far as cameras are concerned, “it’s a lot harder to hide or protect that bad cop once there’s video.”
Mitchell Chappelle asked a number of questions, one being what the policy will be in Carlisle concerning who has access to the footage captured on one of the cameras.
Interim Police Chief Stephen Latshaw said that the chief, a manager of the body camera footage and the lieutenant will all have access to view the material at any time.
“When we get a good data management policy, we’re going to have supervisors who have to view, at random, certain videos of their officers,” he explained. “Any use of force, any pursuit, any critical incident has to be reviewed.”
Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott said that borough staff and the police department are currently working to put together policies and storage procedures for the cameras.
“Our officers will be donning the cameras this summer with a pilot involving some officers later this month,” Scott said. “My hope is it will lead to a broader discussion within the community on the topic.”