One of Lycoming County’s largest police departments is working to provide body cameras to its officers as soon as possible, according to city leadership.
“It’s a top priority for the mayor and myself,” said Williamsport Bureau of Police Chief Damon Hagan. “It’s a responsible move for best practices and standards moving forward in the future.”
Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter added that the conversation of body cameras has been ongoing for years and he is in full support.
Funding is proving to be the biggest hurdle, as the cost for the cameras could range from between $110,000 and $190,000, according to Hagan. In addition, it would mean new training for the police officers to learn how to use them.
The implementation of the cameras serves two purposes, Hagan said, while it enhances transparency between the police department and the public, he also anticipates it to have a significant positive impact on the prosecution of crimes.
According to a 2016 study, nearly 50% of police departments across the country use body worn cameras. A survey by George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy showed that two-thirds of state prosecutors use body-worn camera videos as evidence.
In addition, the study found that 8.3% of prosecution offices in jurisdictions with body-worn camera footage use it to prosecute police officers, while 92.6% used it to prosecute citizens involved in crimes.
Body cameras have often been seen as a way to hold law enforcement accountable, but can also be used to shed light on a controversial incident.
A 2020 report by the National Police Foundations showed that officers who wear body cameras consistently appear to have fewer complaints filed against them than officers without cameras.
In Williamsport, “we don’t have anything to hide,” Hagan said. He added that “accountability and transparency is good when you work in the public.”
Once the cameras are funded, negotiations with the police union will need to take place to determine how the cameras may affect working conditions, Hagan said.
“It would be a major change in working condition so obviously the union would have a say,” Hagan said.
Williamsport isn’t the first local police department to get body-worn cameras. Montoursville purchased cameras for it’s officers through donations in 2017.
While it is still unclear how the Williamsport cameras would be funded, Hagan said he hopes to purchase and begin using them as soon as possible.