1st Baltimore Police Officers Now Wearing Body Cameras

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

1st Baltimore Police Officers Now Wearing Body Cameras.

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Some Baltimore police officers are now wearing body cameras, launching their pilot program. 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 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. Currently, officers have up to 10 days to seek legal representation before they can be questioned by department investigators about alleged wrongdoing.

Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere said Monday that department officials hope the cameras improve public confidence, provide additional evidence and lead to fewer citizen complaints. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

Police chiefs should be able to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior, but they can easily find their hands are tied by such restrictions. The Baltimore state’s attorney’s office never renewed its request, but Williams at the close of last week’s hearing said he would be issuing a gag order.

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.

Alicia White, both sides have aired their arguments in court filings, he said. “Since that time, I haven’t heard either side say much, if anything, about the case,” Levin said. “I don’t think the gag order is going to make a difference because I don’t think either side is going to be talking to the press.” Officer Caesar R. 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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