Hazleton, Pa., Police Receive Body Camera Training

Dozens of new body cameras will be deployed in the city after the Hazleton, Pa., police department supervisors recently attended an hours-long training session on how to best use the technology.

lights on a police car
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(TNS) — Dozens of new body cameras will be deployed in Hazleton, Pa., after police department supervisors attended an hours-long training session Monday.

Acting Police Chief  Brian Schoonmaker  said once those supervisors train the rest of the patrol officers, the cameras will begin rolling, likely by the end of the week or next week. One of the 30-plus Axon Body 3 cameras will be given to each officer.

Training involved more than just pressing the record button, said  Charlie Balon , senior master instructor at Axon, the company from which the cameras were purchased. He taught the class to Hazleton police, going over the basics of operation and how to use the digital evidence locker on their secure system.

While  Hazleton City
 offered an invite to the media to attend the training one week ago, the company hosting the course declined ahead of the start of class, citing sensitive law enforcement footage that would be viewed.

Schoonmaker said the camera batteries last approximately 12 hours and the camera records in 30 second intervals, even if the officer doesn't hit the record button. The footage is time stamped, though supervisors can watch incidents live.

The system allows the department to expand technology in the future such as linking the body cameras to in-vehicle cameras, according to Schoonmaker.

Axon's website states it has improved low-light performance, reduced motion blur and audio that reduces wind noise. Schoonmaker said the units feature mapping that will show the officers' location, too.

The public wants to evaluate and discuss police incidents nationwide and the camera system will record those encounters, the acting chief said. He cited "very few" local incidents where an officer's conduct came into question and said among those cases most officers were exonerated from the claims. The cameras will prove each officer's integrity and he hopes continue to build the trust the public has in Hazleton police.

Schoonmaker said it's equipment he believes officers need — and for which some asked.

"Some officers are very open to it and have wanted it for a very long time," he said.

The cameras don't just record an officer's conduct; there's a good chance they'll record something pertinent to an investigation, said the chief, who spent time on patrol and as a detective before his current administrative role.

"This way we're protecting the city, our officers and, ultimately, everyone in the community," said Schoonmaker.

Mayor  Jeff Cusat  said the city has been evaluating the pros and cons of having body cameras for several years.

"We feel it's a great tool to protect the police department and the citizens," Cusat said.

The cameras were paid for through donations residents sent to the Hazleton City Authority to support the Hazleton police force, said the mayor. He said after the newspaper story of the police donation account at HCA was published, several "large donations" were sent in and ultimately covered the approximately $54,000 initial cost of the cameras. That cost also includes a 5-year warranty, charging systems, software and secure cloud storage. Annual maintenance and insurance totaling about $21,000 will come from the general fund, Cusat said.

"The people of this area love our police officers and respect what they do," said Cusat.

(c)2020 the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.