On September 17, 2015, then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced a program to equip 1,435 Baltimore County Police Department (BCoPD) officers with body-worn cameras (BWC). Deployment of body-worn cameras began in July 2016. In October 2016, Kamenetz announced he would expedite the program, with full deployment scheduled by September 30, 2017. The County purchased body cameras from Taser International Inc.
Immediately following the announcement of the program, a County Interagency Workgroup began working on the complex operational, technical and legal issues associated with equipping officers with BWCs, establishing policies for officers’ use of BWCs, training officers to use BWCs, storing BWC data, releasing BWC footage and ensuring that constitutional and other legal requirements are met.
This resource is designed to provide information about the program and educate citizens about how BWCs are used.
BCoPD’s standard operating procedures—including when an officer turns a camera on or off—are based on standards set by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. These state standards apply to all Maryland police agencies that use BWCs.
View the BCoPD's Body-Worn Camera Use Policy for Baltimore County police officers.
Video Release Policy
The Baltimore County Police Department issued its first policy governing the public release of footage from body-worn cameras on February 7, 2020. The policy, which aims to clarify the circumstances under which footage will be released and the procedures for release, reinforces the department’s commitment to the improvement of policing strategies and accountability.
Chief Melissa Hyatt said, “This policy is an important step in continuing to build and maintain trust between law enforcement and the community. The policy will preserve the integrity of investigations while respecting the privacy of individuals.”
Under the policy, the Chief of Police can make a decision to release footage from critical incidents and positive interactions with officers and the community within 30 business days of the incident, even if there has not been a request for footage (critical incidents are high-profile encounters, along with use-of-force incidents that are defined at length within the policy). The Chief will consult with the State’s Attorney prior to releasing critical incident footage. The policy includes a process by which the State’s Attorney can request an extension of the release in order to preserve a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
View the BCoPD's full Body-Worn Camera Video Release Policy.
Why Body Cameras?
BWCs have become an important law enforcement tool. Baltimore County believes BWCs:
- Improve public safety
- Enhance transparency, accountability and trust
- Reduce complaints against officers
- Make prosecutions more efficient and effective
Who Wears Body Cameras?
All Baltimore County police officers throughout the 10 precincts and in other assignments where BWC camera use has been deemed appropriate by the Chief of Police wear a BWC.
Cost to Taxpayers
The contract with Taser is an eight-year, $12.5 million contract. It covers the purchase of the Axon Flex body camera, a model that offers officers options for how the camera is worn. The contract includes the cost of maintenance, unlimited data storage, licenses and other camera-related expenses.
Annual operating costs are estimated at $1.6 million, with most of that paid by the County's speed camera program. These annual costs include 19 additional full-time personnel to manage the program.
Release of BWC Footage
Body-camera video is a public record, subject to release under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) and other relevant laws. This means that BWC footage for any police activity may be sought by media agencies and citizens. BCoPD will honor such requests unless an ongoing investigation or pending prosecution merits retention of the film, and absent any other exception outlined in the MPIA.
In cases where there is significant public interest or a public safety need, BWC footage may be posted to BCoPD’s news blog and social media platforms.
BCoPD will redact BWC footage in accordance with the Maryland Public Information Act and agency policy. Legally mandated redactions include:
- The identity of juvenile suspects
- Personal identifiers such as license plate and driver’s license numbers
- Medical information
BCoPD policy prohibits the identification of sex crime victims. BCoPD reserves the right to redact or withhold footage to protect someone’s physical safety and for graphic content.
BWC footage is similar to footage from a cell phone camera. BWCs are mounted to an officer’s uniform (the chest or shoulder area) or eyewear. The cameras point away from the officer and capture images in the camera’s field of vision. Citizens who interact with police officers are recorded on body camera footage.
BWCs are equipped with audio. In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly amended the state’s wiretap law, exempting law enforcement from the two-party consent requirement when recording audio; this change allows officers to record audio when using BWCs in their daily work, including in their interactions with citizens.
Body-worn camera footage is a useful tool in providing clarity about controversial police interactions. However, camera footage cannot provide all the information needed to make a fair and accurate judgment about police activity. Footage is part of a thorough investigation; it does not replace a thorough investigation.
Limitations of BWC footage include:
The camera does not necessarily reveal what the officer perceived or what was in his mind. The camera does not follow the officer’s eyes, see exactly what he sees, or record physiological and psychological stress that may affect the officer’s perceptions.
The camera cannot record sensory cues (such as physical resistance or tension), only visual cues.
In low light, the camera may see more clearly than a human being.
Cameras record two-dimensionally. This means viewers may not be able to accurately judge distances from footage.
The retention period for BWC video depends on the type of incident. The categories and retention period are listed in BCoPD's Body-Worn Camera Use Policy for Baltimore County police officers.
To request footage from body-worn camera video, submit a recording request.