A Southpointe cyber security company has donated body cameras to the Canonsburg and Cecil police departments.
Defy Security is outfitting all 44 officers with the body cameras, which cost about $1,000 apiece.
“We’re extremely grateful to the company,” said Canonsburg police chief Alex Coghill, who has wanted to purchase body cameras for his police officers, but the cost of equipment and data storage made it prohibitive.
The body cams have already been distributed to Canonsburg officers, who underwent training and are wearing the cameras in the field.
Cecil Township Police Department is expected to implement the body cameras within the next month.
Both police departments already utilize cameras in their police cruisers.
Coghill and Cecil Township police chief Shawn Bukovinsky said the technology offers a number of benefits, including the ability for officers to more effectively gather information at a scene.
“A police officer is obviously an expert witness in court. Absent anything else, sometimes it’s just a police officer’s testimony. What a camera and audio do is corroborate everything that police officer has seen and done,” said Coghill. “Even though it might not pick everything up – an officer might be looking somewhere else – but it corroborates what a police officer does when he’s out in the field.”
Coghill and Buckovinsky said the cameras will also help the departments maintain a level of transparency and accountability with the public because residents will know that interactions with the police will be recorded and could be reviewed.
The body cameras also can be used for internal training for officers.
Defy Security Chief Executive Officer Justin Domachowski, who grew up in Washington and now lives in Canonsburg, said he and Defy Chief Technical Officer and co-founder Paul Giorgi, “wanted to invest back in the communities we’re involved in.”
“So, I met with (Canonsburg Mayor) David Rhome and asked what can we do, and this opportunity came up,” said Domachowski.
A growing number of police departments around the country are equipping officers with body-worn cameras.
Peters Township Police Department uses body cameras, and in June 2018, state police in Uniontown participated in a six-month pilot program funded by a $52,000 federal grant that equipped 30 state troopers from Uniontown, Somerset and Avondale with the devices. State police across the state have not yet adopted the use of body cameras.
Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone believes body cameras can help reduce the number of false complaints filed against police.
He said a Canonsburg officer recently was accused by a woman of unprofessional behavior, but a review of the video from the encounter exonerated the officer.
Research also has shown, Coghill said, that wearing a body camera can de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.
“We encourage our officers to tell people they’re being videoed because that’s a de-escalation technique, so someone who might otherwise think about doing something will think about it because they know they’re being videotaped,” said Coghill.
The body cameras, manufactured by Watchguard, are clipped to the front shirts of the officers’ uniforms, at about chest-level.
The cameras allow up to nine hours of recording.
Bukovinsky said his officers are eager to use the body cameras.
“All of my officers are excited and happy to see they’re going to get this protection, as well as the community,” said Bukovinsky. “I think it makes the community feel a little bit more comfortable around police, and lets them know that they’re accountable and we’re going to be accountable. I think it works both ways.”