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City, County Trail Laurel on Police Body Cameras

P. Kenneth Burns

While Baltimore City and Baltimore County are drafting plans for police body cameras, they might want to look to Laurel, just south in Prince Georges County, where officers have been wearing them for two years.

Officer Andrew Derouin, a seven-year veteran of the Laurel force, has a camera about the size of a lipstick tube mounted on his sunglasses. The battery pack hooks on to his belt and the cable connecting it to the camera runs beneath his shirt.

His camera comes on when he makes a traffic stop, but if he is responding to a call at a residence, he must ask for permission, on camera, to record.

At the end of his shift, Derouin places the camera in a port back at the station.  It downloads all the footage and stores it for six months or longer if police need to maintain it as evidence for a trial.

Laurel’s mayor, Craig Moe, and the city council authorized funding for the cameras, $2,000 per unit including data storage and maintenance contracts, in 2013.

Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said it was easy to implement the program because his department had been using car cameras for two decades.

He told Maryland Morning last September that officers are requesting body cameras and added that complaints against officers have gone down.

“There have been incidents where people have come in to file a complaint; both complaints against officers and or lawsuits where the video have come into play,” he said. “And once they had viewed the video, they have retracted or redacted their complaints.”

The cameras are used for daily patrols as well as SWAT team actions, K9 handlers and for training.

Training officers video tape what other officers are doing during field training exercises, then make sure those officers are “made aware of mistakes they’re making in the field,” McLaughlin said.

Playing catch up

Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson is coming up with recommendations for police body cameras and Taser cameras.  Police had planned to launch a pilot program for Taser cameras last month, but delayed the start while they worked out problems with storing footage.

Recommendations for body cameras are expected this spring.  They will also launch a pilot program for Taser cameras around the same time.  

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said his county may not be Ferguson, Mo. – referring to the tensions between police and the community sparked by the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer last summer- but he recognizes that police-community relationships are a national concern.

“We may not have a problem in Baltimore County but it doesn’t mean we can ignore the potential for the future,” Kamanetz said.

In the city, a work group appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continues.

The City Council passed a bill requiring police body cameras in November, but the mayor vetoed it.  She cited an opinion from the law department saying the council didn’t have the power to do that and said the proposal was not well developed.

The mayor said she supports body cameras but she didn’t want a mistake ridden program that might not pass legal muster.

“The more background we have and the other implementations occur around the country, the more were going to learn the foibles of technology and the ins and outs,” said John DeCarlo, associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who commended Rawlings-Blake on her approach to the issue.

The mayor says she expects the work group to give her recommendations in the next several weeks.  

Original story misstated next steps for police body cameras in Baltimore County.