Police May Use Body Cameras to Record Interactions With the Public

On February 4, 2014, a new law  was enacted which permits police officers to wear body cameras to record their interactions with the public.  This law goes into effect on April 4, 2014 and amends portions of Pennsylvania’s Wire-Tapping Act, found in Title 18, Section 5704.  The law states that it is not unlawful, and no prior court approval is needed for an officer to record oral communications between individuals during the course of his/her duties as an officer.  At the time of the recoding, the officer must be in uniform or otherwise clearly identified as law enforcement, and must inform the individual that he/she is being recorded.  Police are not permitted to record within residences.

Concerns that have been raised about this new law is the lack of additional regulations and guidelines on how and when the cameras should be used.  The law seems to leave the discretion to the individual police officer.  Pennsylvania’s American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill for just that reason, citing to problems in the past when police have selectively activated and deactivated their dash board cameras. If used properly during all encounters, a camera could ensure the police are following proper procedures and treating members of the public appropriately.  However, without clear regulations within the law, it remains to be seen how individual police departments will implement the use of this new tool.