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The Baltimore County Police Department's body-worn camera program is set to begin Wednesday, July 6.

The first 10 cameras will be deployed that day to one officer in each of the county's 10 precincts. After that, BCoPD will train 10 officers a week for 15 weeks, until 150 cameras are deployed. These 150 cameras will be distributed throughout the 10 precincts and in other units where the Chief of Police has deemed camera use appropriate. This comprises the first phase of BCoPD's body camera initiative.

The second and final phase of the program, involving 1,285 cameras, is scheduled to begin in July 2017. The program will be fully phased in by December 2018. When complete, 1,435 of the county's 1,900 police officers will wear cameras.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Chief Jim Johnson, along with Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, conducted a press briefing this afternoon at the Public Safety Building in Towson providing details about how the cameras will be used, how footage will be managed, limitations of BWCs and the anticipated benefits.
"We're investing in this program for one reason," Kamenetz said. "We believe it will improve public safety by enhancing transparency, by reducing complaints against officers, by improving behavior of all parties involved in police activity and by making prosecutions more effective and efficient."

Regarding prosecutions, Shellenberger said footage from citizen-operated and surveillance cameras already plays an important role in prosecutions; BWC footage – which shows police activity from the officer's perspective – promises to be another valuable prosecutorial tool.

Use Policy

At today's briefing, Chief Johnson highlighted the most important components of the body camera Use Policy.

"My biggest concern was the potential for the cameras to strip officers of their autonomy," Johnson said, turning officers into robotic enforcers of the law. "This policy is specifically designed to preserve the autonomy and discretion of the police officer."

Key points in the Use Policy:

  • Officers assigned body cameras will activate them as soon as possible unless it is unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so.
  • Officers have discretion to activate the camera during any legitimate law enforcement activity if they believe recording may be appropriate. They have discretion to de-activate the camera in places or situations where there’s a heightened expectation of privacy (e.g., locker rooms or rest rooms). They also have the discretion to de-activate in order to secure statements from witnesses and victims.
  • Officers will notify people as soon as possible that they are being recorded unless it’s unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so. Civilians cannot choose whether or not they are recorded.
  • Retention periods for footage depend on the type of incident. For the least serious incidents, the retention period is 18 months. For the most serious felonies, the footage is kept permanently.
  • BWC footage is a public record subject to release under the Maryland Public Information Act and other relevant laws to the public, including media. Baltimore County will treat requests for footage the same as requests for any other police record. The same exceptions apply. Footage of incidents in which there is a compelling public interest may be posted to official Police Department platforms.

Johnson, who has been a law enforcement officer for nearly 40 years, called development of a body-worn camera program "the most challenging project I've ever been involved with. Cameras are part of our world. It's the right time for Baltimore County Police to develop consistent policies, procedures and practices for the use of cameras as a tool to enhance public safety. I'm confident our program will accomplish that."

Program Cost

An eight-year, $12.5 million contract with Taser International, Inc. includes purchase of the Axon Flex camera (BCoPD offers officers a choice of camera mounts), maintenance, unlimited data storage, licenses and other expenses. These costs will be paid with revenue from the County's speed camera program.

When fully implemented in FY2019, the ongoing annual cost of operating the program will be an estimated $1.6 million. This includes 19 additional, full-time people needed to run the program. The County's speed camera program will cover all but a small portion of these annual costs. The remainder will be covered by the Office of Information Technology and the State's Attorney's Office.

The Baltimore County Police Department 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 #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 are available online (PDF) 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.

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.

 
 
Revised June 27, 2017