Prosecutors and Public Defenders Struggling To Review Police Body Camera Video

A Daily Record article (2016-10-23) reported concerns from prosecutors and public defenders about how they were going to manage the sometimes significant amounts of time needed to review police body camera footage. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo is reintroducing its body camera bill from last year as a 2017 legislative initiative in an attempt to deal with review time and cost concerns under the Maryland Public Information Act while maintaining police officer accountability.

The Daily Record article focused on the review of police body camera video in a trial or investigatory situation, finding that state’s attorneys and public defenders were worried over how to review the pending deluge of body camera video:

Natalie Finegar, deputy public defender in Baltimore city, said district court attorneys are already asking for help viewing videos as footage becomes more common in their cases.

“This is going to be crushing for us,” Finegar said. “In my mind, it’s malpractice for them to not view every scrap of video.” …

Viewing all available video means a 30-minute incident can quickly become two hours of footage if multiple officers are outfitted with cameras, according to Finegar. …

“We have not yet hit the expected deluge,” said Donald Zaremba, the [Baltimore County] district’s public defender. “We haven’t received great numbers of these but we expect that to change.”

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said only a few videos have made it to court, but with around 150 body cameras on the street and counting, and only two staff members assigned to process videos, more manpower will be needed as the program expands. …

After the three-day weekend for Labor Day, for example, the employees came in on Tuesday to a full week’s worth of work to do just from videos linked to criminal files. It takes an hour-and-a-half to two hours to prepare each video for discovery, which includes shielding confidential information and tagging key points.

Nearly all Montgomery County police officers now have body cameras following a pilot program last year. Lawyers in the county are noticing how much more time criminal cases with body cameras require, to Deputy State’s Attorney Laura Chase.

“It’s a long time to review these things,” she said. “They’re fascinating, they’re interesting most of the time, but they’re time consuming, to watch something in real time.”

The article also discussed the benefits of police body cameras, including the creation of a visual record of the disputed event and potential evidence. Many of the individuals quoted in the article expressed support for the use of body cameras but remained concerned about video review and maintaining timely discovery schedules.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Police Body Cameras