After scrutiny, Baltimore Police Department releases body-camera policy

After facing criticism over the lack of published guidelines for the use of body cameras during a pilot program, Baltimore Police today released a policy to the media, outlining when footage must be reviewed by a supervisor, when officers can turn their body-worn cameras (BWC) off, when they should end a recording, how videos should be included in reports, and how members of the public can request to either access footage or have footage deleted.

A superior must look at video anytime force is used, a death occurs, an officer is killed or injured, or there is reason to believe a complaint will be filed.

Officers are allowed to view their own recording if there is a "serious use of force, in-custody death, or [they] are the subject of a criminal investigation" prior to filling out a report or being interviewed, the eight-page policy says, providing a prosecutor declines to bring charges and Internal Affairs has viewed the footage. They may view the footage to fill out reports on "routine matters" and must disclose doing so.

As for protests, the policy states that a "BWC recording of a constitutionally protected activity may not be used to identify persons present at the activity who are not suspected of being engaged in illegal activity or in need of assistance."

Officers are allowed to turn off their cameras when a citizen requests it, "sensitive circumstances are present (for example, when interviewing a victim of sexual violence," or they risk giving up an informant or undercover officer.

"In the event that a member disables the recording function of the BWC, the member shall state orally into the BWC, the reason for disabling the device," the policy says. "When in doubt, record the interaction."

There are tighter restrictions on filming inside a health care facility or detention center. The cameras should only be turned on when interviewing a suspect or answering a call.

Cops are instructed to test out their BWCs before each shift and report any malfunctions. Once their shift ends, they must upload and tag their footage.

Members of the public can ask for videos using the Maryland Public Information Act, and there is also a "recording deletion request" form.

The Baltimore Police yesterday kicked off a 54-day trial period for three different types of body cameras, during which 155 officers on the street will record their police work. After reviewing its findings, the BPD will award a contract to one of the vendors and implement a camera program across the department. The policy for cameras may be amended based on what happens during the pilot program.

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