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Death of Philadelphia Officer Reinvigorates Experiment in Body-Worn Cameras

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The murder on Thursday of Philadelphia police officer Robert Wilson III came just hours after Mayor Nutter, in his new budget, announced an expansion of a pilot program that had involved Wilson: officers wearing body cameras.

Wilson was not wearing a video camera at the time of his murder, but he and other members of the 22nd District have been part of the police department's initial testing of the technology.

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(Officer Robert Wilson was slain during an attempted robbery at a North Philadelphia video game store on March 5, 2015. Photo provided by Phila. PD)

Mayor Nutter, in his new budget, said he is setting aside an extra half-million dollars to expand the testing throughout all districts.

Police commissioner Charles Ramsey, speaking to reporters about the new funding before the shooting of Wilson, said they have been testing 35 cameras in that district for the past six months.

The new money, if approved by City Council, would allow that number to grow to about 450 cameras, and would boost the infrastructure that will eventually be needed.

"The rest of the money would be used toward storage, toward maintenance, maybe perhaps toward editing equipment that we would need," Ramsey said.  "You also have to worry about your network, because you also have to have a network that can upload and download a video.  It shouldn't take eight hours to upload an eight-hour video."

Still, Ramsey said, this expansion in the coming year to more than 400 body cameras would still only be a beginning.

"We estimate close to 4,000 cameras would be needed to really have full implementation," he said, "anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000.  That's a lot of cameras."

The pilot program in the 22nd District involves five cameras each from seven different vendors.  Some of those brands, Ramsey said, have already been ruled out:

"We've been using them.  We've already had some that have not met standards, because they're just a little too flimsy and do not hold up under daily use by police."

So, Ramsey believes, full deployment of body cameras will take three to four years, and it will be up to the next mayor to decide whether he or she is willing to foot the bill for what the commissioner says would be a major new operation.

"The real expense is in (data) storage, and editing the footage for the DA's office, and also, if it's ever aired," Ramsey explains.  "We have to look at network issues.  We have to look at storage issues.  We have to look at all the associated costs that go into having  a technology like this in place in our department."

Ramsey said that after several months of testing, his support for the concept of having officers wearing body cameras has not wavered one bit.




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