Body-Worn Camera Program
Deployment of body-worn cameras began in July 2016. In October, Kamenetz announced he would expedite the program, with full deployment scheduled by September 30, 2017.
Baltimore County Government has purchased body cameras from Taser International Inc.
Immediately following the announcement of the program, a County Interagency Workgroup began working on the complex operational, technical and legal issues associated with equipping officers with BWCs, establishing policies for officers’ use of BWCs, training officers to use BWCs, storing BWC data, releasing BWC footage and ensuring that constitutional and other legal requirements are met.
County Executive Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson recognize citizens’ interest in this issue. This resource is designed to provide information about the program and educate citizens about how BWCs will be used. This section will be updated with information about the BWC program as the program develops.
BCoPD’s standard operating procedures—including when an officer turns a camera on or off—are based on standards set by the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. These state standards apply to all Maryland police agencies that use BWCs.
Why Body Cameras?
County Executive Kamenetz and Chief Johnson believe BWCs have become an important law enforcement tool. They believe BWCs will:
- Improve public safety
- Enhance transparency, accountability and trust
- Reduce complaints against officers
- Make prosecutions more efficient and effective
Who Will Wear Body Cameras?
BCoPD’s plan calls for 1,435 (out of 1,900) officers to wear body-worn cameras.
The remainder of the BWCs are scheduled for deployment by September 30, 2017 to officers throughout the 10 precincts and in other assignments where BWC camera use has been deemed appropriate by Chief Johnson.
Cost to Taxpayers
The contract with Taser is a eight-year, $12.5 million contract. It covers purchase of the Axon Flex body camera, a model that offers officers options for how the camera is worn. The contract includes the cost of maintenance, unlimited data storage, licenses and other camera-related expenses.
To expedite the program, the County will increase overtime expenses to triple the rate of training.
Annual operating costs are estimated at $1.6 million, with most of that paid by the County's speed camera program. These annual costs include 19 additional full-time personnel to manage the program.
Release of BWC Footage
Body-camera video is a public record, subject to release under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) and other relevant laws. This means that BWC footage for any police activity may be sought by media agencies and citizens. BCoPD will honor such requests unless an ongoing investigation or pending prosecution merits retention of the film, and absent any other exception outlined in the MPIA.
In cases where there is significant public interest or a public safety need, BWC footage may be posted to BCoPD’s news blog and social media platforms.
BCoPD will redact BWC footage in accordance with the Maryland Public Information Act and agency policy. Legally mandated redactions include:
- The identity of juvenile suspects
- Personal identifiers such as license plate and driver’s license numbers
- Medical information
BCoPD policy prohibits the identification of sex crime victims.
BCoPD reserves the right to redact or withhold footage to protect someone’s physical safety and for graphic content.
To request footage from body-camera video, complete the Body-Worn Camera Recording Request Form.
A separate request form must be submitted for each recording request. If the requested recording does not meet the requirements for release, you will be notified in writing and will have the right to appeal a denial of your request.
Once your request has been received by the BCoPD, you will receive a letter within 10 days advising the estimated costs associated with researching, redacting and producing your requested recording.
Maryland law allows for fee waivers for indigency. You may request a waiver if you are unable to pay the necessary fee; to request a waiver, complete an Affidavit of Indigency (PDF) and submit with your request form.
What Will Body Camera Footage Show?
BWC footage is similar to footage from a cell phone camera. BWCs will be mounted to an officer’s uniform (the chest or shoulder area) or eyewear. The cameras will point away from the officer and will capture images in the camera’s field of vision. Citizens who interact with police officers will be recorded on body camera footage.
BWCs are equipped with audio. In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly amended the state’s wiretap law, exempting law enforcement from the two-party consent requirement when recording audio; this change allows officers to record audio when using BWCs in their daily work, including in their interactions with citizens.
Limitations of BWC Footage
Body-worn camera footage is a useful tool in providing clarity about controversial police interactions. However, camera footage cannot provide all the information needed to make a fair and accurate judgment about police activity. Footage is part of a thorough investigation; it does not replace a thorough investigation.
Limitations of BWC footage include:
- The camera does not necessarily reveal what the officer perceived or what was in his mind. The camera does not follow the officer’s eyes, see exactly what he sees, or record physiological and psychological stress that may affect the officer’s perceptions.
- The camera cannot record sensory cues (such as physical resistance or tension), only visual cues.
- In low light, the camera may see more clearly than a human being.
- Cameras record two-dimensionally. This means viewers may not be able accurately to judge distances from footage.
Retention of BWC Footage
The retention period for BWC video depends on the type of incident.
Guidelines for how long BWC footage should be kept are in the process of development by the County Interagency Workgroup.