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Deployment Scheduled in July 2017

The Baltimore County Police Department (BCoPD) today begins a program to equip 1,435 officers with body-worn cameras. The first five years of the program will cost $7.1 million.

The first 150 body-worn cameras (BWCs) are scheduled for deployment in July 2016; they will be deployed equally throughout the 10 precincts to officers in a variety of assignments. The remainder is scheduled for deployment in July 2017.

"Body cameras", said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, “have the potential to improve public safety. We expect both officer and citizen behavior to improve.” Reductions in complaints against officers and more efficient, effective prosecutions are other expected benefits, he said.

Kamenetz noted that this issue is “complex operationally and legally, and it requires a great deal of fiscal commitment and a commitment to officer training.”

'Enhancing Accountability, Trust'

Kamenetz and police Chief Jim Johnson jointly decided to implement the BWC program. After months of study, Chief Johnson concluded that the times call for police agencies to use tools with the potential to enhance accountability and strengthen a relationship of trust and understanding with communities.

“While cameras are not a panacea and while they pose significant challenges for police agencies, I believe that this technology is here to stay. We decided to work now to ensure an effective program,” Johnson said.

The most important elements of a healthy police-community relationship, Johnson said, will always be outreach and understanding, the free flow of information and commitment to a skilled and diverse workforce. But he said he believes cameras have a place. “I support cameras as a way to provide clarity and transparency in some controversial situations. The public’s trust is invaluable to us, and cameras are one tool that can help us maintain it.”

Last December, Kamenetz called for a comprehensive study of body-worn cameras for police. Johnson assigned an internal workgroup including BCoPD sworn and professional personnel, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, the Office of Information Technology, Sheriff Jay Fisher, and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge Number 4.

After months of study – including input from the NAACP, ACLU, National Alliance on Mental Illness, a representative from the Latino community and other stakeholder groups –  the panel issued a 128-page report to Chief Johnson. The workgroup’s report – which Chief Johnson called “the best body of work I have read on this complicated topic” – recommended additional study rather than implementation of a body camera program at this time.

(The recommendations of the Body-worn Camera Workgroup (PDF) are available in their entirety.)

Program Costs

The cost of establishing the program is $7.1 million.

That includes $1.25 million for the cameras and related equipment and $5.9 million for maintenance and storage. It also includes the cost of hiring at least 21 additional full-time personnel in several departments to manage the program.

The annual cost of running the BWC program is estimated at $1.6 million.

Program Details

BCoPD standard operating procedures for use of the cameras will not be finalized until after the General Assembly session and any subsequent action by the legislature pursuant to the recommendations of  a state commission on body cameras. These state standards likely will apply to all Maryland police agencies that decide to use body cameras.

BCoPD employs about 1,900 officers and is the 21st largest local police department in the U.S.

Officer training will be essential. One of the concerns about body cameras, Kamenetz and Johnson agree, is their potential to produce robotic officers, wary and unwilling to exercise professional judgment or to interact freely.

Three-Phase Implementation

Based on the study and the experiences of other agencies that have begun using body-worn cameras, storage and maintenance of massive amounts of video and handling public information requests are challenges requiring additional human resources. Baltimore County’s three-phase implementation program calls for the hiring of additional IT support, evidence specialists, criminal records processors, forensic specialists, attorneys, training personnel and public information specialists.

Noting that body-worn camera programs remain a work in progress, Johnson said BCoPD will continue to monitor programs in other agencies and to participate in the national conversation on body cameras. BCoPD will adapt its program as best practices and problems evolve.

Public Information Laws

Body camera video will be treated the same as any other public record, subject to release under the Maryland Public Information Act and other relevant laws.

The implementation plan will include public outreach to ensure that citizens are aware that these videos are public records, and that citizens as well as police will be portrayed.

POlice logoNew Approach Emphasizes that Community Relations is Every Officer's Responsibility

Crime prevention, police partnerships, outreach and public safety education to schools, communities and all segments of our society are the responsibility of every single Baltimore County police officer, said Chief Jim Johnson in announcing a departmental reorganization. The reorganization will further enhance and build upon the agency’s long-standing and a very successful community policing program.

In the past, Johnson said the department’s Community Resources Bureau was separate from the Operations Bureau, leading some officers to feel that building community relationships and working with young people was the primary responsibility of the Community Resources Bureau, or the work of outreach teams in individual precincts.

“Especially in today’s environment, this mind set must change in public safety”, Johnson said. “Our effectiveness rests on the confidence of people we serve. It is critical that we enhance programming and build confidence and relationships with our younger citizens, organizations and all communities in our great County. This is every officer’s business. This is every officer’s role and responsibility – from the Chief all the way to the officers and professional staff members of what I believe is the finest police department in America.”

Effective immediately, the Safe Schools Section, which manages the School Resource Officer program and is liaison to Baltimore County Public Schools, will report to the Operations Bureau, Patrol Division. This will provide better clarity of communication, and coordination of investigations, tactics and procedures to further enhance the safety of our students, faculty and staff that work in our exceptional school system.

A new Youth & Community Resources Section will comprise a Counseling Team, Youth Initiatives and a new Community Partnership Team. This Section will become part of the Operations Bureau reporting to the Operations Commander.

Ten officers assigned to the Juvenile Offenders in Need of Supervision (J.O.I.N.S.) will be reassigned from Police Headquarters to the ten precincts county -wide, allowing families and children in the J.O.I.N.S. Program more convenient, closer to home, police visits and interaction, as well as counseling.

Baltimore County’s very successful and valued Auxiliary Police Program, in which volunteers provide traffic control and other basic operational support to sworn officers, will become part of the Operations Bureau, Support Operations Division.

With this reorganization, the agency will operate under two Bureaus, which will no doubt enhance communications, expedite police response and coordination of crime prevention, community policing and outreach, investigation and patrol services, as well as provide the most robust youth, crime prevention, counseling, and education resources available.

photo of an officer shopping with a childBaltimore County Police Officer Michael Schmitz
School Resource Officer, Stemmers Run Middle School

Like a lot of police officers, one of the main reasons I chose this career was to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Looking back over my years on the force, one of the real highlights for me has been the Shop with a Cop program. For the past 12 years, on a Saturday in December, about 100 disadvantaged children are assigned a police officer, who picks them up in their squad car and accompanies them on a Christmas shopping trip to the Hunt Valley Walmart followed by a nice meal at Outback Steakhouse.

It all started back in the summer of 2001 when I was approached by my friend, Kim Coles, who works as a marketing manager for Outback Steakhoue. She told me about a great program called Shop with A Cop that a Virginia Outback was doing for Christmas, and she wanted me to start here. 

The program motto is, “every child deserves a Christmas,” and as nice as it is to make sure a child has presents to open on Christmas morning, the really heartwarming thing is that most of the time, the officers have to basically force these kids to buy something for themselves. They are so intent on buying gifts for their Mom, siblings and other relatives, that they spend their whole $100 allotment. That’s when the officers usually pull out their own wallets and really give back.
I remember my first Shop with a Cop buddy, a young boy from a rough neighborhood whose mother was a recovering heroin addict. He was intent on buying gifts for his younger siblings and his mother. I added some more money to the equation and he bought some things for himself. When we headed back home in the police cruiser that day, I asked him how his day went. I’ll never forget his reply that “it was the best Christmas ever!” This is what a police officer comes on the job to do - make a positive difference. I often wonder if I was able to have a lasting effect on his life and what ever happened to that boy – he’d be about 16 now.

We started in 2001 with funds we raised ourselves and were able to include 25 kids. After the first year the Optimist clubs jumped on board and made the commitment to raise the money to fund at least 100 children each year and they have done that for 11 years, amounting to more than 1,100 children total so far.  Baltimore County’s program is now the largest Shop with a Cop program in the state. The Optimist Clubs not only raise the money but they are also the cheerleaders for the children and police as they enter the Walmart to start their journey.

Over the years I have talked with police officers who have been a part of this event and ask them what it means to them. They all say they had a great time and several of them have continued to come back year after year. Officers have also told me that over the years, some of these children have approached them and said that prior to being a part of Shop with a Cop they didn’t like the police, but afterwards they saw police officers in a more positive light.

This year will be no different when the 110 police officers from all over the county show up to met their new friends (children) at their stations this Saturday  at 0700hrs. During this short  time we spend together with the children, we hope that it brings joy to them and their families, not just on Shop with a Cop day,  but for years to come.  Remember every child deserves a Christmas!

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