The proposed legislation, JPR 8 – Public Information Act – Police Body-worn Camera Recordings, is part of the draft Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. The draft bill provides a framework for when police body-worn camera recordings are to be released under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA).
As the timing of the hearings and release of the proposed slate of bills did not afford the organizations’ legislative committees the ability to officially review and take positions on them, the letter was submitted for informational purposes only and shared the organizations’ long-standing joint views on the issue of police body-worn cameras. MACo and MML hope that resolving lingering issues with body-worn cameras will help promote more widespread use of the cameras while remedying fears of overwhelming cost burdens.
From the joint statement:
While several counties and municipalities have launched body-worn camera programs, the costs associated with the programs—which can reach into the tens of millions of dollars for multiyear comprehensive contracts—can be prohibitive to other jurisdictions. The proper storage and staff resources for necessary redactions of the audio and video footage from the cameras can be particularly cost burdensome.
Notably, the Maryland Public Information Act was largely created to handle paper documents and only recently updated to better handle static electronic records. The Act was not designed to address the practical, technical, and privacy challenges local governments face from potential requests of hundreds of hours of accumulated body-worn camera video, all of which must be subjected to real time attorney review and redaction where appropriate.
For years, Maryland has struggled and failed to enact a set of clear guidelines for releasing body-worn camera footage under the state’s Public Information Act or to put forth resources to help enable greater use of body-worn cameras. And for years, our organizations have advocated for establishing a structure that promotes transparency while protecting individual privacy without being cost prohibitive.
The draft bill, JPR 8, was summarized in part as follows in the meeting materials:
This draft bill requires a custodian of a public record to grant inspection under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) of a police body-worn camera recording, data, or related information, unless the inspection would (1) interfere with a valid and proper law enforcement proceeding; (2) deprive another person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication; (3) constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; (4) disclose the identity of a confidential source; (5) disclose a unique investigative technique or procedure; (6) prejudice an investigation; (7) endanger the life or physical safety of an individual; (8) expose information that would reasonably be expected to cause harassment or embarrassment to a victim depicted in the recording; or (9) otherwise be prohibited under PIA.
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