Police Body Camera Commission Recommends Public Access Limits on Camera Video

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Commission Regarding the Implementation and Use of Body Cameras by Law Enforcement Officers has released its final report to the Maryland General Assembly and the Maryland Police Training Commission (MPTC). The report contains 16 recommendations and best practices meant to be used by MPTC to create rules governing the use of police body cameras by the State and local governments.  As reported in a September 25, 2015, Daily Record article one of the recommendations includes restricting public access to videos showing domestic abuse or violent crime victims.  From the article:

But the commission “strongly recommends to the General Assembly of Maryland that it consider forthwith amending the Maryland Public Information Act” with an eye toward restricting public access to videos showing victims of violent crime or domestic abuse.

Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association, said the commission’s sole recommendation is concerning and likely unnecessary.

“This really seems to be jumping the gun a little bit,” Snyder said. “It really seems to be a recommendation that hurts transparency and hurts accountability. The law already has good protections and ignores that body cameras are in place to shed light on police conduct.”

MACo and several counties raised reasonable privacy, cost, and technical concerns about allowing unrestricted public access to body camera videos during the 2015 Session.  These concerns were echoed by the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association in the Daily Record article:

Chevy Chase Village Police Chief John Fitzgerald, who is also representing the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association on the state work group, said the recommendation on public access reflects “the unique nature of these types of records.”

“Having some kind of clear law, some kind of language to address it is good and I think we need to have an adult conversation about this,” said Fitzgerald. “We have to think about where it goes, who is entitled to it and who gets it. These records can be very voyeuristic. These body cameras will go places that dash-cam videos never go.”

Fitzgerald and other law enforcement and advocates of victims of crimes say there is concern about videos that may show victims of sexual assaults or other incidents where the release of video could result in humiliation or re-victimization.

During last Session’s debate, MACo proposed amending Maryland’s Public Information Act to restrict access of body camera videos to people recorded in a video or their family.  The person or family member who received the video would be free to share the video with whomever they wished.

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