Body Camera Taskforce Meeting Focuses on Transparency and Access of Footage Under MPIA

The Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force was briefed by New York University (NYU) professor Barry Friedman and Maryland American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney David Rocah. 

NYU Professor Barry Friedman shared his credentials as the author of “Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission,” Policing Project,” the leader of a program run through the school of law dedicated to working with communities and police to ensure that policing is equitable and accountable, and as a board member for Axiom largest manufacturer of body cameras and tasers before hitting a few points on important matters he felt the Body Camera Task Force should closely consider:

  • Body cameras are really expensive and most departments face sticker shock of the full range of expenses. It is important to weigh the costs and benefits of body camera programs to ensure they make sense with the overall goals.
  • Many organizations that initially advocated for body cameras have backed off considerably from the panacea they thought the cameras would bring because the cameras were not fulfilling what they hoped for in terms of accountability, transparency, and better policing.
  • There is no point in having police body cameras unless there are good policies in place for the release of footage to the public and to those caught on the camera.
  • Body cameras are not just for transparency and accountability. One of their best uses is for training purposes.

David Rocah focused his remarks on the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), sharing that the ACLU has always been concerned with transparency, accountability, as well as privacy when it comes to body cameras. He stressed the need to properly have body camera footage tagged in order to categorize and search for incidents. For example, if someone wants to access footage related to just stop and frisks, car searches, home searches, etc.

Rocah also listed three barriers the ACLU feels hampers public access to body camera footage: (1) costs for accessing camera footage should be borne by the departments rather than the individuals requesting the footage; (2) videos should not be categorized as video as personnel records which are categorically barred from disclosure and should treat them like investigatory records that may be released with discretion and redaction; and (3) need to protect against claims that releasing the footage would impair investigation/trial. His recommendations for action were for the task force to resist treating body camera footage as a piecemeal category of record and reform the MPIA more generally to address shortcomings and lack of transparency.

The Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force was formed by HB 739 (2020). They are charged with studying and making recommendations on the economical storage of audio and video recordings made by law enforcement body-worn cameras. The task force must report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by December 1, 2020. MACo is represented on the tasks force by Howard County Police Chief Lisa Meyers.

A video of the meeting may be found on YouTube.

Previous coverage from Conduit Street:

NCSL Presents National Overview to Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force

General Assembly to Launch Police Body Camera Task Force