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Baltimore Police officers 'not always in compliance with body-worn camera policy requirement,' audit shows

Posted at 9:05 PM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 21:12:35-04

BALTIMORE — An audit was conducted on the effectiveness and efficiency in regards to Baltimore City Police Department's surveillance practices.

The Maryland Office of Legislative Audits focused on the evaluation of the department's policies and procedures for certain surveillance equipment, especially body-worn cameras, fixed-cameras located through Baltimore City under the CitiWatch Program, and prisoner transport wagon cameras.

The audit was based on the department's activity from July 1, 2014 until February 28, 2021.

According to Baltimore Police Department records, as of May 19, 2021, there were 2,267 officers assigned body-worn cameras, and approximately 1 million videos were recorded in calendar year 2020. In addition, the CitiWatch Program utilizes a network of both City-managed and privately-owned cameras fixed to structures strategically located throughout the City.

CitiWatch fixed-cameras provide realtime surveillance footage of public spaces that are actively monitored in an effort to prevent, and quickly respond to, criminal activity.

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By May, 2021, there were 830 City-managed cameras. Additionally, based on records prepared by CitiWatch, as of February 2021 there were 663 privately-owned cameras. Furthermore, prison transport wagon cameras are outfitted with a camera system that monitors the interior of all holding areas to allow for observation of persons in police custody throughout the duration of the transport. As of September 20, 2021 there were 18 PTWs assigned to the various police districts.

The audit revealed that certain officers were not always in compliance with body-worn camera policy requirements relating to uploading, categorizing, and titling videos.

For example, using available data analysis tools, 73 identified officers had uploaded 8,014 videos in calendar year 2020 between 2 and 166 days after the day the videos were created.

In addition, between calendar years 2017 and 2020, BPD conducted body-worn compliance audits of 894 officers and found that approximately 10 percent of the officers audited were not in full compliance with the BWC Policy. Untimely uploads and improperly titled videos can result in required evidentiary video footage not being readily available or identifiable for review and investigative purposes.

The report also found that BPD did not have policies and procedures governing the scope and methodology of body-worn compliance audits and did not use available BWC data or a risk-based audit approach to focus audit efforts and maximize its audit coverage. Also, BPD did not conduct a sufficient number of body-worn camera compliance audits, did not maintain adequate documentation to support audits performed, and did not always take appropriate action when noncompliance was identified. Compliance audits are critical to BPD’s oversight of the BWC Program since they provide an independent assessment and evaluation of officer compliance with BWC Policy.

Furthermore, BPD did not require annual refresher training on BWC usage and protocols consistent with best practices.

As for the CitiWatch Program, the audit showed that CitiWatch did not have a formal or comprehensive policy and procedures manual, and did not always maintain executed agreements with other entities administering the CitiWatch Program. In addition, CitiWatch did not track camera uptime (time cameras were functioning properly) and did not have procedures to ensure broken cameras were repaired timely.

About 12 percent of the cameras in the CitiWatch Program were not functional. There were also risks existed within BPD’s BWC video management system.