MACo’s Body Camera Initiative Heard in the Senate

On March 1, 2016 Les Knapp, MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, testified in support of SB 930, Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices, to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill is one of MACo’s 2016 Legislative Initiatives – it would create a needed policy on how police body camera video would be handled under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The bill would provide for: (1) law enforcement officer accountability and transparency; (2) protection for victims of abuse, domestic violence or sexual attacks; and (3) protection for local government and State records custodians from potentially overbroad or abusive requests for video.

Joining Knapp were Baltimore City Chief Solicitor Hilary Ruley, Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland Sheriffs’ Association representative John Fitzgerald, and Maryland Municipal League Governmental Relations and Research Associate Bill Jorch.

The MACo testimony explained the need for the legislation:

The PIA works well for paper documents and similar media but is not configured to properly address the massive amounts of video that will be created through police body cameras. Even the update to the PIA several years ago to better handle electronic records focused more on static records like documents, spreadsheets, and database search results.

Unlike police dashboard cameras, which are limited in both use and the areas they film, there will be far more body camera video generated and it will show scenes never before subject to public scrutiny – including the insides of private homes and businesses. The potential for abusive use of such video, including posting on the internet, is extremely high.

Furthermore, the time and costs for attorney review and potential redaction of body camera video are significant and a single large request could quickly run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and consume many hours of staff time.

MACo believes SB 930 addresses the concerns raised by the PIA while not altering any rights under criminal or civil discovery or existing PIA exceptions.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 947, was heard on February 23 in the House.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.