York City, Pa., Hunts for Funds to Upgrade Aging Body Cameras

The city has authorized its police department to apply for federal Justice Assistance Grants, which will fund half the costs, and the city is on the hook for the rest.

by Logan Hullinger, The York Dispatch / June 11, 2019

(TNS) –– The York City Police Department is on the hunt for funding to completely replace its body cameras.

York City Council last week approved a resolution authorizing the department seek funding. The funds are being sought through federal Justice Assistance Grants, which would require the city to cough up 50% of the costs.

"[The current cameras] are out of warranty right now, and some of them are beginning to fail," said York City Police spokesman Derek Hartman. "We're having mechanical issues, and whenever we don't have them, we need to replace them. They're obviously helpful."

Cameras degrade at a fairly fast rate because of weather conditions and wear and tear. And like cell phones, technology can become outdated quickly.

A new body camera system — which would include the cameras, storage and maintenance — is estimated to cost $170,000, Hartman said. That would include 100 cameras — one for each officer.

The department acquired its current cameras in 2016.

With council's approval, the department can begin submitting JAG applications. It will also seek additional funding to cover at least a portion of the city's obligation to reduce taxpayer burden, officials said.

The push for body cameras came in response to police-involved shootings and the protests that followed demanding accountability. Nationwide, departments have welcomed the new tech. But law enforcement officials have also said that the new systems are costly to maintain.

Warranties that include expert maintenance of the cameras are integral, Hartman said. The York department can handle some of the occasional repairs, but as they continue to age it can become too much for in-house care.

The department may have fewer options in its hunt in funding than in the past.

WellSpan Health gave the city a $100,000 grant in 2016, which footed the bill for the first round of body cameras as well as other equipment. It's unclear whether that will be on the table this time around, said WellSpan spokesman Will Lavery.

"We're committed to annually partnering with the city," he said. "We are certainly going to continue to address the needs of [the city], and we look for them to determine how to best use the funds."

Since 2017, the organization has given the city $1.5 million, $1.3 million of which has gone directly to supporting police, firefighters and other public safety personnel.

The funds have gone toward vehicles and equipment, but the need for replacing cameras is a newer issue. The organization hasn't yet committed to another one-time grant similar to the one in 2016, and the police department hasn't reached out for one.

State law grants municipalities purview over their body camera programs. York City created its policy in 2016, which generally abides by recommendations from interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

City police officers are required to turn on their body cameras whenever they're responding to calls or interacting with members of the public. They cannot turn off the cameras when entering a private residence, nor can they edit footage.

Additionally, any individual can obtain footage through a Right-to-Know Law request unless it is a part of an ongoing investigation.

©2019 The York Dispatch (York, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.