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Bellefonte police push for body cameras

DA says county will help borough with $75,000 cost

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna and Sgt. Jason Brower of the Bellefonte Police Department spoke to Bellefonte Borough Council about body cameras on Monday night in council chambers.

BELLEFONTE — The Bellefonte Borough Police Department wants body cameras. Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna wants the department to have them.

The sticking point?

The price tag — approximately $75,000.

At work a work session prior to Monday night’s Bellefonte Borough Council meeting, Cantorna and Sgt. Jason Brower of the Bellefonte PD spoke about the need for body cameras.

In Centre County, Bellefonte PD and Penn State Police are the only local departments without body cameras.

“It makes law enforcement’s job so much easier. For police in today’s society — when you look at the legal system — it’s getting to the point really where a body camera is like a gun and handcuffs,” Cantorna said. “It’s a necessary tool. It’s my objective to get every local agency equipped with body cameras so that we can maintain the public trust and build on that public trust.”

Bellefonte Police Chief Shawn Weaver was not available Monday night, but Brower spoke to borough council in his absence.

“It allows people to see what actually happened. It takes the questions out … the ‘what if” type thing goes away because you have the camera. You can review it, you can see it,” Brower said.

While members of borough council seemed receptive to the idea of equipping officers with body cameras, the price tag is steep. According to Brower, the department would need six cameras. Four would go out with on-duty officers while two would be back at the station charging.

In addition to the $75,000 estimated purchase price, there are, of course, other fees. All footage needs to be stored on a server. There are also maintenance costs involved with the new technology.

Cantorna likened the body cameras to any other type of technology.

“The reality is that there is an up-front cost, but kind of like cable … once they get you, they’re going to figure out a way to bill you on an annual basis. But the big obligation is the purchase,” Cantorna said.

Brower is in agreement with Cantorna that body cameras have become a necessary part of the uniform.

“We are always being scrutinized; what happens when police are involved with someone,” Brower said. “Obviously, a way to always have an answer to that question is for everything to be recorded. That is pretty much the trend of today, to go with a body camera system.”

According to Brower, there have been three incidents in Bellefonte Borough just in the past 10-12 days where body cameras would have been useful.

“We have had incidents where we’ve had to arrest people for using knives to threaten family members … domestic-type situations. So, we’ve had to put three people in jail in less than two weeks involving knife calls. We’re highly scrutinized and we’ve had an incident in the county that’s a good example of that,” Brower said, referring to the death of State College resident Osaze Osagie.

In that incident, police were called to an apartment where Osagie was holed up. He charged at police with a knife before being fatally shot.

Brower said that in situations like that, body cameras are invaluable.

“If something bad happens, we can show that we weren’t wrong. The borough is protected as well. The biggest purpose of cameras is to protect all of us. There’s really not a downside to this. The downside, the difficulty, is the cost,” Brower said.

Cantorna said that the county is willing to help defer some of the costs associated with the body cameras. The drug forfeiture fund helps aid local law enforcement.

According to Cantorna, money from that fund is available to help defray the costs of body cameras.

“I do understand that $75,000 is big … from my perspective, I want to help and assist at the county level any way that we can to help and defer some of those costs,” Cantorna said.

Cantorna said he could justify those funds picking up 30 percent of the costs. That would leave the borough with nearly $53,000 in costs.

Borough council took no action on the body cameras Monday night.

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