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Chief's Corner

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
patchBlog is winner of 2019 international MarCom Award

Oct 14

Body-worn cameras now in use to protect citizens and police

Posted on October 14, 2020 at 8:26 AM by Andrea Iglar

This week, the South Fayette Township Police Department is beginning the use of body-worn cameras.

Each of our 20 police officers will be wearing a camera to provide an audiovisual record of interactions between citizens and officers.

There are many reasons I felt it necessary and beneficial to implement this program for our community.

Having our officers record their actions with the public not only ensures transparency but also protects everyone involved from undue scrutiny. Even though video recordings don’t always show the entire incident, they often can assist by showing the majority of an event in a fair, balanced manner.

National statistics have found that when officers and citizens know they are being recorded, both parties generally behave more politely and courteously. Also, serious incidents may deescalate when body-worn cameras are in use. This helps protect both citizens and police from any unnecessary injury or legal issues.

Officers normally will advise anyone they interact with that they are being recorded. Each of our officers has been trained to remain sensitive to the dignity of all individuals being recorded and to exercise discretion when privacy outweighs any legitimate law enforcement interests in recording.

It is the department’s intent to be transparent and accountable for our officers’ actions at all times. Our body-worn camera policy is designed to ensure that these objectives are met and followed by all members of the police department.

We obtained the body-worn camera equipment through a $19,000 matching grant from the federal Bureau of Justice, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The grant paid for half of the $38,000 program cost, which includes 25 cameras, officer training, a new server and other equipment.

We as a community must invest and work together to make South Fayette the best and safest community that we can be. This body-worn camera program is another step toward ensuring our township continues to grow in the right direction.

Professionally,

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
South Fayette Township
Jun 03

Police value transparency and respect for all citizens

Posted on June 3, 2020 at 11:43 AM by Andrea Iglar

Recently I have received several inquiries from residents about the South Fayette Township Police Department’s philosophy regarding training, transparency and accountability in light of serious issues facing communities across the country such as excessive use of force and racial discrimination.

South Fayette Township believes in hiring and training law enforcement professionals who uphold the values of community policing, transparency and respect for all citizens.

I believe it all starts with recruiting and hiring the proper people to serve as police officers. Candidate vetting includes an in-depth background check, polygraph exam, medical and psychological testing, and written and oral exams. Our department also reviews applicants’ social media posts and comments.

The nature of law enforcement requires continual adjustment to a myriad of ever-changing challenges, threats and obstacles. But one thing remains constant at all times, regardless of how difficult things become: We always strive to follow the South Fayette Police Department’s mission of serving the community and stay true to our oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect the people we serve.

Since becoming police chief in August 2014, I have made it my mission to serve the community of South Fayette and create a culture that is transparent and community oriented. I have implemented programs like Coffee with the Chief and Cup with a Cop, along with many other community-based programs that foster positive interactions between citizens and officers. We aren’t just faces in a patrol car; we care for this community.

To continue our culture of transparency, our department will be begin the use of body-worn cameras later this year. Along with our in-car cameras, body-worn cameras assist the police administration with monitoring officer and civilian behavior, which in turn helps determine how we need to improve or what type of training we should emphasize moving forward.

Our department also monitors and records any use-of-force incidents and works to ensure officers follow our policies that govern appropriate levels of force. After any critical incident, officers conduct a debrief that is documented and made available to all officers to review. This again assists us with learning what was done right and what we need to improve upon.

These are turbulent times. Through it all, I would like to ensure all South Fayette residents that our police department will continue to serve and protect its residents and will always be adapting to ever-changing challenges.

For more information about our mission and community programs, please visit the South Fayette police webpage.

Professionally,

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
South Fayette Township
Mar 31

Police department to start body-worn camera program

Posted on March 31, 2020 at 10:16 AM by Andrea Iglar

There is a trend nationally for law enforcement agencies to use body-worn cameras for a variety of good reasons. Police officers wear body cameras as a way to record the video and audio of events that occur when they are on the job. The goal is to capture evidence of the circumstances that occur rather than relying on potentially conflicting reports. Although the cameras don’t guarantee that every situation will be fully accounted for, they can provide valuable evidence about interactions between officers and citizens.

The South Fayette Township Police Department plans to start a body-worn camera program within the next year, thanks to a matching federal grant of $25,000 to purchase body cameras for each of our police officers. The grant, administered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, is from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program.

Body-worn camera technology can improve how both police officers and citizens behave. Research has shown that both officers and citizens alike behave better when they know there is some level of accountability for their actions. From a law enforcement standpoint, body camera footage can be used as a training tool to assist officers in correcting their mistakes and observing positive encounters. In the same way that athletes study video of themselves to improve their sports performance, police officers can view footage to help enhance the performance of their duties. The end result is a more transparent agency.

A recent study found that body-worn cameras had reduced the number of public complaints against officers by as much as 90 percent. It also has been reported that use-of-force incidents dropped by 60 percent due to the use of body cameras. With fewer issues to investigate, there is less taxpayer money spent on fighting civil lawsuits and internal investigations, which means there is more money to serve and protect the people. As of 2013, approximately one-third of municipal police departments had implemented body cameras.

Most people like the idea of having another layer of accountability for police officers. Most officers are open to and support the use of body cameras because they improve citizen and officer behavior. For me, as your police chief, body-worn cameras provide safety for both my officers and the citizens they encounter. It also enhances my efforts to create accountability and transparency, which in turn helps us provide the best possible service to South Fayette Township.

This effort will help us continue to develop positive relationships between the police department and the community of South Fayette, keeping both officers and citizens safer.

We will be communicating more information about the body-worn camera program in the coming months. If you have any initial questions or concerns, please feel free to email me call me at 412-221-2170.

Professionally,

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
South Fayette Township