155 Baltimore police officers begin wearing body cameras under pilot program

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

155 Baltimore police officers begin wearing body cameras under pilot program.

More than 150 police officers in eastern, western and central Baltimore were equipped with body cameras on Monday — instructed to begin recording their interactions with the public as a first step toward department-wide adoption of the technology beginning next year. Lawmakers meeting in Annapolis last week to study ways to hold police more accountable and improve police-community relations agreed to recommend shortening the time officers accused of misconduct get to retain a lawyer before cooperating with investigators in internal disciplinary proceedings.

A gag order imposed last week by the judge presiding over the Freddie Gray case is the latest of several challenges that have arisen for members of the public and the media keeping tabs on the proceedings. The move reflects a national trend of law enforcement agencies adopting body cameras amid heightened scrutiny of American policing — particularly in urban and majority African-American communities like Baltimore — and as the modern phenomenon of citizens posting their recordings of police interactions online becomes increasingly common. The goal is to enhance both the police officers’ and public’s safety. “There’s two sides to every story, and it’s not often the police officer’s side really comes out,” said Hannah Perrish, Baltimore City Police Department.

Though the proposal is a relatively modest reform whose actual impact may be as much symbolic as substantive, the General Assembly should adopt it when it convenes in January. In addition to a restriction on attorneys speaking outside of the courtroom, pre-trial hearings for the six police officers facing criminal charges in Gray’s arrest and death have been marked by extensive bench conferences, to which the public isn’t privy.

In an effort to address concerns with police brutality, the Baltimore City Council voted last November 12 to 1 in favor of implementing body cameras for officers–a program the department is excited to launch. “Improved public confidence in their law enforcement agency, additional evidence that could be used for prosecutorial purposes, enhanced officer safety and decreased citizen complaints,” said Dean Palmere, Deputy Commissioner of Operations. “That way it will protect the officers if they’re not doing wrong, and it will also protect the citizens if there’s anything going wrong,” said Diane Williams. “The fairness on each side, and if there’s not, if there’s there’s stuff going wrong that needs to be fixed, that needs to be addressed. With the trials of six Baltimore City officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray likely to overlap much of next year’s legislative session, the issue of police misbehavior will be very much on the public’s mind. Officers will be responsible for activating the cameras before citizen interactions and uploading the footage to cloud-based storage provided by the vendors, and that a person being recorded can request that officers turn off their cameras. Currently, officers have up to 10 days to seek legal representation before they can be questioned by department investigators about alleged wrongdoing. But the department declined to release the “draft policy” it developed to govern how and when officers use their cameras, how officers can respond to citizen requests not to be filmed, how the department plans to use the footage, and who will have access to the footage — issues that have been debated nationally and raise thorny legal questions, including around citizens’ privacy concerns. “We are working from a draft right now because we want to fine tune that policy to make sure that, as we experience this pilot program, we’re going to learn and the community is going to learn,” said Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere. “We will be transparent moving forward and we will answer the community’s questions in regards to what the policy suggests that we do at this point.” David Rocah, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and a member of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s body camera task force and Gov.

The so-called “10-day rule,” which is part of decades-old legislation known as the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, has often been cited as a factor inhibiting commanders from holding officers accountable for misbehavior and undermining trust between police and the communities they serve. While the officers’ cases have drawn a high level of public interest, concerns have been raised that so much attention could hinder the officers’ ability to get a fair trial. Larry Hogan’s body camera commission called the department’s decision not to publish its policy “incomprehensible and utterly unacceptable.” The governor’s commission specifically called for policies to be public in its recommendations to state legislators, and members of Rawlings-Blake’s task force “assumed and we specifically discussed that the policies would be public,” Rocah said. “Body cameras are about transparency and accountability.

The panel’s recommendation would reduce that period to between three and seven days, with a recommendation of five days appearing as the most likely compromise. That’s why there is a national demand and local demand for body cameras,” he said. “You can’t claim to be transparent and then say those orders are a secret. It’s beyond ridiculous.” Residents with fears that officers’ body cameras will “only be on when officers want them to be on and they won’t be on when officers are engaged in misconduct” should be able to look to the department’s policy for assurances that officers are being held accountable, Rocah said.

If a prosecutor wants to question an officer about an incident of alleged misconduct, LEOBR doesn’t shield suspects from cooperating with the inquiry, though officers have the right to counsel and constitutional protections against self-incrimination in those circumstances anyway. Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said when cases draw such widespread attention, the public also learns more about the way courts operate. Baltimore commanders expect a contract for the citywide program will be awarded to one of the three vendors in February, and that it will take about two years for the city’s approximately 3,000 rank-and-file officers to be equipped. The jury selection process, he said, is meant to “weed out people with biases.” Judge Barry Williams has been grappling with how months of publicity could impact the trial.

Mosby, said in a statement that the state’s attorney’s office “has been working closely with the Baltimore Police Department to develop appropriate policies and procedures to maintain and obtain footage that will help us prosecute cases and hold criminals accountable.” Baltimore’s program is not the first in Maryland, but would be the state’s largest. But many cases of wrongdoing involve misdemeanors — petty theft, simple assault, reckless driving or discharging a firearm within city limits — that don’t rise to that level but nevertheless unlawfully threaten public safety and undermine confidence in the police.

The three city vendors include Taser International Inc., the manufacturer of stun guns; Atlantic Tactical Inc.; and Brekford Corp., the Anne Arundel firm that briefly ran the city’s troubled speed camera program. Finally, police departments in Maryland and elsewhere have long resisted allowing civilian review boards to participate in misconduct investigations, but such panels need more power to hold officers accountable. Baltimore City’s toothless civilian board has neither the resources nor the legal authority to independently investigate allegations of misconduct or compel the department to discipline officers guilty of wrongdoing. The city clearly needs a stronger board that can intervene in such cases to resolve them in a timely fashion and with a degree of thoroughness and integrity that convinces citizens their complaints are actually being addressed.

Melissa Hyatt, head of patrol, said the participating officers’ “candid feedback” during the pilot will play a key role in selecting the vendor and shaping policy. The methodology of the Mayor’s plan, including this lengthy pilot program, is without question the proper path as there will most certainly be the inevitable learning curve for all involved.” A similar website was set up for the corruption trial of former mayor Sheila Dixon, while documents in a handful of other high-profile cases have been posted online due to public interest. Another document filed that Wednesday, from Porter’s attorneys, was not in the court file as of the following Tuesday, though the court clerk’s office was able to track it down. Terri Charles, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said that processing time in the clerk’s office is 24 to 48 hours and that the agency has sought to post documents once they go through that process.

However, an administrative order from 2010 applying to all Baltimore Circuit Court cases prohibits the public from viewing the conferences when reviewing video recordings of hearings. The conferences are included in official transcripts of the hearings, but that order prohibits anyone other than attorneys and judges from obtaining a transcript until proceedings are completed.

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