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

Baltimore Police Department officials touted a pilot program that puts body cameras on 155 officers for 54 days, but they declined to offer the full list of guidelines governing usage of the cameras.

A mix of volunteer officers and those suggested by their commanders, representing the Central, Eastern, and Western districts and members of the Special Enforcement and Special Operations units, will test out three different types of cameras—models from Panasonic, Vie-Vu, and Taser—during the trial period.

One of the vendors will be awarded a contract in February 2016, after which it will take another two years before every officer on the street has one.

"What we expect out of these cameras is 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 Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere in a prepared statement during a press conference this afternoon.

The full list of rules and regulations on how the cameras will be used was not released.

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. So, benefit of the doubt. Let us learn within the next week or so, so we can adjust," he said. "We're confident in where the policy is right now. We're confident in the legality of the policy."

Here is what was revealed in a question-and-answer period with the media.

  • 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 policies are outlined in the draft of rules. Palmere said the current motto is, "When in doubt, record it."
  • Officers must follow a policy when uploading video, which is subject to inspection. Each of the cameras begins uploading footage once placed in the docking station. Taser and Vie-Vu support mobile apps on which officers can look at footage.
  • Video is downloaded and stored on a server provided by the three vendors. BPD owns and retains the rights of the footage and will retain it for four years.
  • Citizens can ask not to be recorded. Officers must announce they are recording.
  • Footage is subject to the Maryland Public Information Act.

The Baltimore Police Department made available three officers who had tested the cameras during their morning rounds.

Officer Hannah Parrish, a one-year veteran of the Western District, said she had three recordings since clocking in at 7 a.m. this morning. 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. Get in here."

She said she volunteered for the program because of "the climate of policing right now."

Referencing a conversation with another officer brought before the media scrum, Parrish said, "There's two sides to every story. It's not often that the police officer side really comes out. And it'll be good for the community too. It'll be good for whoever we're speaking to at the time.

"It shows the fairness on each side. And if there's not, if there's stuff that's going wrong, that needs to be fixed, that needs to be addressed. I think it will hold everyone a little more accountable."

Getting the full story also seemed important in the era where videos of run-ins with the police quickly surface on YouTube via citizen-shot videos.

"This will have all the boring stuff beforehand that nobody really likes to watch, that shows why something escalated to where it ended up," she said.

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