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Penn Township commissioners vote to allow DA to review police body cam footage before it's released

Penn Township voting on allowing DA to review body cam footage before public release
Penn Township voting on allowing DA to review body cam footage before public release 02:10

PENN TOWNSHIP, Pa. (KDKA) -- Penn Township commissioners voted to allow the Westmoreland County district attorney to review police body cam footage before it's released to the public.

They're one of about 40 stations in the county that were given the opportunity to consult with the DA's office to decide if a recording will be released.

"Tonight's vote is really just an opportunity for us to get on the same page with the district attorney's office regarding what information will be released, and when that information will be released," said Penn Township Police Chief John Otto.

Otto said he believes this is an opportunity for the DA to get the 40 or so departments within Westmoreland County on the same page. In December, the DA's office said it offered the process "to bring uniformity and take the full burden off of municipalities."  

"There was an understanding of, we will view this together before it is released for the sole purpose ultimately of protecting not only the integrity of the case for criminal prosecution, which ultimately the district attorney is responsible for prosecuting, but also for protecting people within that video that we may not want to expose, whether they are victims, whether they are children, or other people that we did not want to capture on video or do not want to release to the public," Otto said.

Otto told KDKA-TV Wednesday that he's on board with the move.

"I think things are changing here in Westmoreland County and it's time to not only catch up but be ready for events that are going to occur in the future, get all of the key players on the same page with the same understanding and be able to prosecute a case successfully, as well as protect innocent people who may have been captured on that video," Otto said.

He said it's still ultimately up to the township to decide whether or not to release recordings.

"This is our video and we will decide if and when that video is released in accordance with the state law, Right to Know information law regarding releasing body worn video cameras or dash cam, video cameras, footage, ultimately lies with the municipality," Otto said.

The DA has not yet announced how her office will review these videos but Otto is hopeful it will include his department.

"I don't know if the specifics of her policy have been released yet. What I anticipate is that the district attorney or chief county detective along with myself, our municipal manager, our municipal solicitor would sit down and each of us look at the video through our unique vantage points, get on the same page, talk about things and see who needs to be protected, including the integrity of the investigation, and move forward from there," Otto said.

The vote passed unanimously, 5-0, Otto said. 

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