Police Worn Body Camera Legislation Clears Senate

Harrisburg—Today, in a 47-1 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate approved State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf’s (R, Montgomery, Bucks) SB 560 clearing the way for the use of police body-worn cameras.

Police across the Commonwealth have been prepared to make use of cameras, but without this amendment to the state’s Wiretap Act, it would create criminal liability for police.  Under the current law, police may record video, but not audio inside a residence.  SB 560 would eliminate this stipulation, freeing police to concentrate on unfolding events without the concern of whether or not to turn off their cameras.

The legislation clears another hindrance to police body-worn cameras by eliminating the Wiretap Act requirement that an officer must announce to everyone in a public space that they are being recorded—something that would be nearly impossible on a busy street. 

The bill not only allows the police to gather evidence of incidents as they unfold, but also allows public access to recordings.  Members of the public and the news media will be able to submit a request for recordings to the police department, which must produce the recording unless it relates to a pending criminal matter.  Appeals can be taken to the county court of common pleas, where the judge will consider the needs of law enforcement, the interest of the public in holding police accountable, and the privacy interests of crime victims and citizens inside their homes.

Senator Greenleaf said, “Body-worn cameras will not only record statements and actions at a crime scene, but they will also hold both police and the public accountable for their actions during law enforcement encounters.” 

The legislation is the result of many months of work between Senator Greenleaf, municipal and state police, and state prosecutors. 

The Senator said, “All stakeholders came to the table with the same goals of improving the justice system.  My interest in this was always conviction integrity, as this is one of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions (Passage of SR6 of 2006).  If a suspect makes a confession, the camera footage will eliminate any doubt about whether that statement was voluntary.  Recent events suggest that body-worn cameras are necessary to document how officers conduct themselves and the difficult challenges that they face every day.”

For additional information, see the attached “Frequently asked Questions” document and the summary of SB 560.

SB 560 now moves to the House of Representatives.