Baltimore police begin testing body cameras

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

BPD touts body-camera pilot program, full list of guidelines not released.

BALTIMORE – More than 150 Baltimore police officers will be outfitted with body cameras as part of a pilot program that will eventually expand to the entire force.

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. 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 in prosecutorial purposes, enhanced officers safety and decreased citizens complaints,” said Dean Palmere, Deputy Commissioner of Operations. “That way it will protect the officers if they are not doing wrong, and it will also protect the citizens if anything is going wrong,” said Diane Williams. “The fairness on each side, and if it’s not and there’s things going wrong that need to be fixed, then it will be addressed and it will hold everyone more accountable,” Officer Perrish said.

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. When The Sun’s Kevin Rector brought up that a state committee had created a list of best practices for body cameras, including having a written policy, Palmere said the department hopes to have the policy released before the end of the trial period. “This is day one. 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. We’re confident in the legality of the policy.” An officer can use their discretion to turn the camera off due to the “sensitivity and nature of a particular case,” said Palmere, such as when a complainant asks for it to be turned off or a sexual assault is being investigated.

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. Though former Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts often complained that existing legislation makes it harder for commanders to discipline “bad apples” on the force, the 10-day rule applies only to internal investigations conducted by police departments, not to criminal probes launched by state’s attorney’s offices or by federal prosecutors. 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. She recalled how during one call, for a family disturbance, a citizen, when informed they were being filmed, said, “OK good, it needs to be on camera. 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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