City Balances Accountability &. Investigation In Body Camera Video Release

A Baltimore Sun article (2016-11-28) reported that Baltimore City planned release body camera footage of a police shooting of an alleged knife-wielding suspect this week – a first under the City’s new body camera program. The article noted the conundrum increasingly facing law enforcement agencies: weighing the need for police accountability and transparency against being able to effectively conduct an ongoing investigation. The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA), like virtually every other public information act nationwide, allows jurisdictions to deny the release of records that are part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation. From the article:

About 600 city officers have been equipped with cameras since the department launched the $11.6 million program in May, part of a national movement to put cameras on officers as several high-profile shootings have brought increased scrutiny to police actions. …

“The State’s Attorney’s Office understands the importance of transparency in our fight against crime,” the office said in a statement in response to questions Monday. “However, commenting or releasing evidence in open or pending investigations could compromise the judicial process and jeopardize the integrity of cases.”

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said releasing the footage was consistent with the City Council’s expectations for how the cameras would be used.

“It’s about being transparent between the police and the public,” said Clarke, who represents the area where Friday’s shooting took place. “I’m pleased it’s happening with such speed. It doesn’t do any good to have video if the public can’t see it and if the officers can’t see it.”

From MACo’s perspective, police body camera footage can be a critical tool for ensuring police officer accountability and protecting both citizens and law enforcement officers. However, the cameras do create unique PIA issues relating to review, redaction, and the privacy issues of crime victims and other citizens caught on the cameras, as well as imposing massive long-term storage costs on local governments. Creating a PIA policy for police body cameras that properly balances these issues is one of MACo’s 2017 Legislative Initiatives.

Learn more about MACo’s body camera initiative and other legislative initiatives during the 2016 MACo Winter Conference. Offer your thoughts on our initiatives and learn about how you can help during the Session 2017: Path to Success panel on December 9.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: