Officers for the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department (PHAPD) have begun wearing body cameras in a move to increase transparency.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) is one of the few public housing agencies with its own police force, which has 81 officers and 35 members.

Sgt. Shayne Smith (left) and Officer Thomas Horner wear the body cameras in use by the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department.
Sgt. Shayne Smith (left) and Officer Thomas Horner wear the body cameras in use by the Philadelphia Housing Authority Police Department.

“The purchase and use of body cameras by our officers affirms our commitment to the safety of residents and the high-quality police work that we expect from our officers,” said Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA president and CEO. “Progressive police departments around the country are adopting this technology.”

The cameras were purchased in a bundle along with Tasers for $190,000, allowing the agency to receive a discount on the items.

“It’s just one more tool that’s out there to use and it helps in a number of ways,” said PHAPD Chief Branville Bard. “It helps bring an air of transparency. It protects citizens. It protects police officers from malicious claims. It’s a neutral and detached record of the incident.”

A growing number of police departments are turning to the devices. After the death of Freddie Gray, police officers in Baltimore have begun wearing body cameras this year. The death of Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody, and the criminal charges filed against six officers involved in his arrest and transport, brought increased calls for the cameras. The San Francisco Police Commission also recently approved a camera policy for its officers.

Bard noted that if the cameras are dislodged, they cannot be picked up and used by someone else. Also, officers will not be able to review any video before they write a report to avoid tailoring those reports to the video. He said officers do worry that body cameras have a “straight ahead” view, but the cameras can pick up evidence that an officer does not see.

Taser International, the vendor of the body cameras and Tasers, will handle storage of the video through a cloud-based solution for the department, as well as security of those records. The body cameras will record on a 30- or 60-second loop but won’t record continuously unless an officer presses a button to record continuously. That means cameras will not be saving video all the time.

The department will routinely archive video, and police will be able to locate each recording by number. PHAPD has a video policy in place based on best practices and model policies available. Bard noted that there’s a need for the strict control of video, especially when officers go into homes and because victims have privacy rights.