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Dashcams, body-worn cameras help police departments in various cases

Four years ago, the level of trust between the public and police was strained following high-profile incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland.

The tension led to an opportunity for a new technology which could hopefully improve that trust — body-worn cameras.

Since then, the cameras have become a commonly used tool in many departments. New York Police Department now outfits all of its officers with body-worn cameras.

In Pennsylvania, Lancaster Police Department has also mandated that their officers use them.

In rural areas, adoption has been slower.

In Carbon County and surrounding areas, the majority of departments do not use the technology. Only six of the 19 police departments use some sort of video recording — dashboard or body cameras. Only three have adopted body cameras.

While they’re not legally required to use them, the departments that use cameras say they are an effective tool which can help them in different ways.

“In my opinion, the benefits have really been noteworthy and helpful,” said Scott Fogel, chief of police for Lehigh Township.

Weatherly Police Department was considering body cameras even before events like Ferguson, where an unarmed, black 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson, setting off a series of violent clashes with law enforcement.

Sgt. Michael Bogart said the cameras provide a definitive record which can be used for evidence in court or for training.

“It’s worth its weight in gold,” Bogart said.

Most local departments that do not use video recording cite the cost of the equipment as their main reason. Others said they don’t see them as an effective tool.

The cost of body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras are an obstacle for local departments. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency offers grants to departments, but the process is competitive.

Of the eight departments that said they have no cameras, five of them said that the cost was the main reason they haven’t purchased cameras yet.

Nesquehoning uses dashboard cameras, but Chief Sean Smith said cost is what prevents them from adding body-worn cameras. He said a dashboard camera costs about $5,000.

The cost of the cameras themselves is not the only factor.

Lansford Police Chief Jack Soberick the cost of servers to store the equipment is also very high.

Under its policy, Lehigh Township Police Department keeps all footage from its body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras for 180 days. Lehighton and West Penn Township keeps it for 90.

Dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras can provide a more clear record of an incident so if there are disputed facts, they can be reviewed. Lehigh Township has used both dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras since 2016. Their policy says the cameras must be turned on during all calls for service and all interactions with the public. There are exceptions, like in bathrooms or during strip searches.

The department has used footage in numerous traffic cases as well as assault cases, Lehigh Township Chief Scott Fogel said.

In one recent case, they used the footage to dispute a DUI suspect’s claim that an officer pressured him to take a blood test following a traffic stop.

“The body camera footage shows the defendant give a clear voluntary consent to submit to the blood test, in a calm conversation with the officer,” Fogel said in an email.

West Penn Township Police Chief Brian Johnson said usually the footage backs up the officer’s account of events so they can feel at ease when they are working in a heightened situation.

Some platforms, like the one Weatherly uses, allow a department to sync up footage from multiple cameras worn by officers at a scene. Following an incident, the department can move between angles to get different perspectives. There is also technology which will detect when an officer has drawn his gun, and automatically turn on all cameras which are within Bluetooth range.

“When you do traffic stops or a search warrant, you can literally see every officer’s point of view from each direction,” Bogart said.

Cameras have also been an effective training tool for police departments.

West Penn Township uses them to look at how an officer responded to traffic stops, processing a crime scene, taking statements from witnesses, and any other scenario where they feel they might need training.

The purpose of dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras is to document interactions between police and the public, but they could also affect how people behave in those interactions.

State law doesn’t require departments to notify people when they’re being recorded.

West Penn Township chose a camera which has a blinking light and a chirp to draw attention to the camera.

Police departments don’t release footage captured by dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras unless they receive a court-issued subpoena.

Body-worn camera or dashboard camera footage is easy to find online, but it is rare that it comes from Pennsylvania. One noteworthy exception was in 2018 when Daniel Clary was convicted of shooting two state troopers along Route 33 in Northampton County.

In that case, the troopers involved wanted the footage released following Clary’s conviction.

Under the current Pennsylvania state law, passed in 2017, police don’t have to release footage relating to an investigation or which could be used as evidence in a criminal case.

Some groups believe that Pennsylvania residents should have better access to the recordings which police make using dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania said when the bill passed that if residents can’t access the recordings captured on body-worn cameras, then they shouldn’t be used at all.

Representative Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, has introduced a bill which would reverse some aspects of the 2017 law regarding police videos and put them back under the Right to Know law. The law would not affect body cameras, and would still leave in place exemptions for videos which are part of an active investigation.

Not using any type of cameras


Jim Thorpe


Rush Township

Franklin Township

Kidder Township



Summit Hill


Using both dash and body cams

West Penn

Lehigh Township






Using body cameras (used to have dash)


A body camera is now part of the standard equipment in the Weatherly Police Department. Weatherly Police officer Edward Kubert shows the one he wears every day. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS