Baltimore City will institute a six-month body camera pilot program according to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who announced the recommendations of her working group on the issue at a Feb. 18 press conference. The pilot will consist of 100 officers to be selected by the commissioner, who will test a variety of cameras beginning later this year.
“The recommendations put forward today take into account policy, costs, and privacy concerns,” said the Mayor, who called body cameras a tool that could serve to build greater trust between law enforcement and the city’s residents, people the city must retain if it wants to keep growing.
“ understand, as I do, that the status quo has failed us for too long. That if we’re serious about changing our city, we must continue to press forward with more accountability and with greater transparency,” said Rawlings-Blake.
The working group recommendations include requiring officers to record all interactions with citizens, and all interactions in which an officer is exercising her police authority. Officers are to inform citizens they are being recorded as soon as practicable and, in those instances where the officer is not exercising her police powers (e.g., detaining a citizen, stop and frisk), citizens may request the officer turn the camera off if they prefer not to be recorded.
The group also recommended that data from the cameras be kept for a period of four years.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Announces Outline of Body Camera Pilot Program.
“One of the things that we looked at was in civil cases, that you have a three year statute of limitations, and as a result of that we thought that four years would be a good measure for purposes of the retention,” attorney James Benjamin, co-chair of the working group, told the AFRO.
While there has been much energy behind the idea that body cameras could lead to greater accountability in cases of police misconduct, some have argued that the non-indictment in the death of Eric Garner, in which Garner’s death was captured on video, suggests otherwise.
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU MD addressed this perspective at the press conference, saying, “I think it’s important to say that without the videotapes, what you have is a set of competing narratives, and a difficulty to ascertain the truth. With a videotape, you have far greater hope of ascertaining the truth of a situation, and you allow decisions to be made on the basis of facts and evidence not preconceptions, which I think exist on both sides of this issue.”
The pilot is expected to cost the city $1.4 million, with a full body camera program costing between $5.5-7.9 million in the first year. There is no set date for the commencement of the pilot, but Benjamin says it will start later this year.
The body camera working group’s full report is available at mayor.Baltimore city.gov/programs/body-camera-working-group/report