Kenney Wants to Equip Cops With 800 Body Cameras

"This is an important step forward in Philadelphia's police-community relations."

Kenney Body Camera

Photos by Dan McQuade and Jeff Fusco

Mayor Jim Kenney will seek funding for 800 body cameras for the Philadelphia Police Department in his proposed budget.

He made the announcement Wednesday morning during an interview on 900-AM WURD.

“This is an important step forward in Philadelphia’s police-community relations,” Kenney said. “Across the country, body-worn cameras have been extremely successful in reducing instances of use of force as well as police abuse allegations, especially those that are unfounded.”

The proposal has been several years in the making. SEPTA police led the way with a pilot program in the summer of 2014; the results of that effort led to the entire transit force being outfitted with the cameras this year.

SEPTA Police Chief Tom Nestel said in January that the body cameras worked two ways — by providing solid evidence to back up accusations against both officers and offenders, and also to exonerate them. Studies show that body cameras have reduced use-of-force complaints in some jurisdictions. 

“Body cameras will make good cops great,” Nestel said, “and keep everyone in line … what’s worthwhile for us is having another piece of evidence to present showing that we were either wrong or we were right. It’s not about defending the police. It’s about getting to the truth.”

About the same time SEPTA officers began testing cameras, former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced his support for such an effort in the police department. Cops in North Philadelphia’s 22nd District spent much of 2015 testing cameras as part of a pilot program.

“It is a good tool,” one police official told the Daily News in the fall, “but it’s not the end-all, be-all.”

Still, new police Commissioner Richard Ross quickly made it clear he supported body cameras, telling the Associated Press in November, “The officers who wear them are excited about it; they think a lot of good things come from that.”

Kenney said today he is seeking money for 800 body cameras — not enough to outfit everybody on a force with 6,600 sworn members, but a start. It is unclear whether the cameras will be assigned to one officer each, or divvied up over shifts.

Kenney didn’t immediately announce a price tag for his proposal, but the AP reported the cost will be around $1.1 million. Some money to buy and support the cameras would also come from “philanthropic” sources.

The mayor makes his formal budget address on Thursday.