Bellefonte police and the Centre County district attorney urged the Bellefonte Borough Council on Monday to purchase body cameras for the 11-man department, which is the only municipal department in the county without the equipment.
District Attorney Bernie Cantorna offered an unspecified amount of money from his office’s drug forfeiture account to help cover the estimated $75,000 initial investment.
State law permits district attorneys to use those funds when it relates to the enforcement of drug laws. At least 30% of crime in Bellefonte is drug-related, Cantorna estimated during the borough work’s session.
“In today’s society, a body camera is a necessary element of a police officer’s equipment that they need to be safe and do their job,” he said. “... If we’re really going to support law enforcement, this is a necessary expenditure that the borough needs to make.”
Borough police Chief Shawn Weaver’s first public push for body cameras came in April — months after neighboring Spring Township served as a “guinea pig.” The cameras lead to greater transparency, safer interactions, more professionalism and accountability, he said.
The cameras are becoming the standard for law enforcement — not the exception — and provide “key pieces of evidence” during criminal prosecutions and responding to citizens’ complaints, Cantorna said.
“We are always being scrutinized ... as to what happens when the police are involved with someone,” police officer Jason Brower said during the meeting. “Obviously, a way to always have an answer to that question is for everything to be recorded.”
He referenced the fatal State College police shooting of Osaze Osagie and the backlash the State College Police Department and Borough Council received as part of the department’s reason for wanting the body cameras.
Residents are “asking to be recorded” and often wonder why Bellefonte police are not wearing body cameras, Brower said.
The Bellefonte Borough Council asked that the company who manufactures the cameras make a proposal at a future meeting.