June 19, 2024

Cambria County police departments get digital cameras through drug forfeiture funds | News

EBENSBURG, Pa. – When law enforcement officers arrive at the scene of a crime, physical evidence is not all that’s important, Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer said on Thursday.

To successfully prosecute a case, investigators often have to provide crucial context – not just testimony about an assault or a back-alley drug deal, but also a clear photograph of an injury or a picture showing the inside of a car in which drugs were found, he said.

Police chiefs and lead officers representing 20 Cambria County departments received up-to-date digital cameras on Thursday to help them do that job, through approximately $6,000 in support from the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office, which used funds recovered in court through drug forfeitures to cover the cost.

Fifty high-resolution Minolta cameras were distributed.

The waterproof cameras are able to record high-definition videos as well as photographs.

The goal, Neugebauer said, is to have one camera inside every police cruiser in the county – and within arm’s reach any time investigators are sent to a crime scene.

“Any time you can (improve) evidence collection, we make our prosecutions better, which allows us to better protect the community,” Neugebauer said.

Details are sometimes better captured through a photograph or a video than in a written police report, he said.

“When something was found, how was it in the car? Where was it in the car?” Neugebauer said, noting that jurors today expect to see that type of evidence.

He noted that photographs presented as evidence in court might be displayed on a large television screen for jurors to see, making it even more important for officers to have cameras that can take high-quality images.

Neugebauer said that his office reached out to police departments last year to see what equipment they needed, and modern cameras was a common response.

Many departments have digital cameras, but not necessarily enough of them – and technology changes rapidly. An image captured by a 15-year-old camera might be grainy or even misleading, investigators said.

Summerhill Township police Chief Paul Bonfanti said that it’s vital to have a camera on hand to take photos during an initial investigation. For example, injuries sustained in a domestic assault can change over time, or even fade away by the next day, he said.

“If you’re the only officer on duty and the camera your department has is inside another vehicle, that’s a problem,” Bonfanti said.

“This is great because it’s going to benefit everyone,” said Nanty Glo police Officer-in-Charge Michael Oyaski, noting that small communities often struggle to fund municipal police departments. “Our bigger communities have more money, but they also have more (police) cars.”

Neugebauer said that drug forfeiture funds were also spent recently to present training on evidence collection to police departments at no cost to their communities.

That was part of a larger goal to standardize evidence collection and processing procedures county-wide, he said.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We all have the same goal, which is protecting the community.”

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