Pittsburgh City Council Commits Funds for Body Cameras for Police

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Sources say a Pittsburgh City Council on Monday committed spending $650,000.00 next year to outfit most police officers with body cameras in the aftermath of fatal altercations between white officers and black residents in Missouri and New York.

According to a published article in Tribune Review, Pittsburgh City Council approved amendments to Mayor Bill Peduto’s proposed capital budget, moving the money out of funds for such things as city steps, senior centers and splash zones.

Acting police Chief Cameron McLay said motorcycle and bicycle officers have been wearing the cameras. He intends to expand their use, but he wants to be sure officers won’t be subject to federal wiretap laws.

The laws prohibit officers from filming inside of a house, McLay said. He said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has promised not to prosecute for accidental filming, but McLay said he’s looking for similar assurance from the state Attorney General’s Office.

Council’s action occurred before members peppered McLay with questions not only about cameras, but other issues, including his thoughts on requiring officers to live in the city.

McLay’s hiring is subject to council approval, and a vote is scheduled for Tuesday. Council is expected to approve the hiring.

“You met all of the criteria of what I was looking for,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, who represents some of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods with the highest crime rates.

McLay told council that in his three months on the job, he’s introduced changes to improve officer morale, promote minority hiring and repair damaged relations with residents in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Burgess and city officials, including Peduto, have criticized the police department as plagued by cronyism, scandal and brutality toward residents.

McLay said he is concentrating on instilling integrity and fairness in the department. Former Chief Nate Harper is in prison for using police money for personal purchases and not paying income taxes.

“One of the things I put into place is systematic, fair and objective promotional processes,” McLay said.

Officers seeking promotion to assistant chief and commanders must submit a letter and write an essay. A panel consisting of McLay, a police commander, rank-and-file officer, member of the city personnel department and a community member interviews the candidate and provides McLay with a recommendation.

McLay said he introduced the process to fill positions that soon will be open because of retiring police brass. At least two top administrators — former acting Chief Regina McDonald and Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson — will hit the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 2015.

“No one is going to get fired,” McLay said.

He’s told council that he’s working to hire more minority officers. He said he’s filmed a public service announcement that’s scheduled to run soon on WPXI and has continually advocated for minorities to apply for police department jobs during community meetings.

“As a chief, I should know what happened in the last 24 hours at a glance,” he said. “I should know what happened in the last week, what are those emergent trends and what are the persistent trends.”

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