Baltimore County Police will begin wearing body cameras out in the field July 6, county officials announced Thursday.
Baltimore Co. Police announcing official launch of body-worn camera program. 1,400 officers to be equipped by 2018 pic.twitter.com/CBQk6IBRWS
— Dakarai Turner ABC2 (@Dakarai_Turner) June 30, 2016
Roll-out will begin with one officer in each of Baltimore County’s 10 precincts wearing a camera. Afterward, for the next 15 weeks, officials will train 10 officers per week, until 150 cameras are deployed.
The second phase of the body-worn camera program, set to begin July 2017, will involve another 1,285 cameras. BCPD hopes to have the entire program phased in by December 2018, with 1,435 of the department’s 1,900 officers wearing cameras.
“This is one of the most challenging and important projects we’ve undertaken in some time,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said.
Kamenetz and Chief of Police Jim Johnson both said that the decision to implement cameras in the county came after more than a year of discussion, debate and thoughtful consideration.
Johnson said he was concerned that body-worn cameras would remove an officer’s sense of autonomy. To avoid that, he said, the use policy has been carefully considered.
“This policy is specifically designed to preserve autonomy, and discretion of the police officer,” Johnson said.
The department’s policy lists specific instances where the camera must be used—during traffic stops, searches, pursuits and emergency vehicle operation, for example—and instances where the camera must be turned off—like when interviewing a victim of sexual assault, or during a courtroom proceeding.
And, in case an officer doesn’t have his or her camera activated and a situation escalates, the cameras have a “sleeper” function. The camera is able to capture and save 30 seconds of footage before it is activated by the officer, officials said.
In addition, officers will have an option of how they mount the camera on their person—be it on their shoulders, as a “headband” or on a pair of glasses. Police officials said it was important to them for their officers to be able to wear the devices in a way that would make them comfortable.
— Cody Boteler (@codyboteler) June 30, 2016
County Councilman David Marks initially thought that body cameras weren’t a necessary tool for police officers. However, after an incident at the Towson Town Center, where bystanders had video of police activity, he began to change his mind.
“I thought to myself, ‘why shouldn’t the police officers also have a record of what occurred?’” Marks said.
An eight-year, $12.5 million contract with Taser International includes the purchase of the body cameras, maintenance, unlimited data storage, licenses and other expenses, according to police. Officials estimate that the annual, ongoing cost of maintenance, once implemented for fiscal year 2019, will run around $1.6 million.
Expenses for the body-worn camera program will be paid for from revenue from the county speed camera program.
“It’s an expensive program, but I think it’s something that we’re going to have to fund,” Marks said. “Body cameras aren’t going to tell the whole story. [But] they can help tell the story. They can be a piece of the puzzle. I do think they’re an effective tool that we’re going to have to embrace.”