On Friday, February 25th, the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings (JPR) Committee voted favorably on Senate Bill 31 Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body–Worn Digital Recording Devices.
A former MACo initiative, the bill would establish guidelines for the release of body camera footage, balancing the interests of police accountability, privacy and safety for victims, and government resources. MACo provided both in-person and written support for SB 31, which was heard by JPR on January 19th. From MACo’s testimony:
If properly implemented, police body cameras can help provide transparency and accountability for officer actions and protect both citizens and the officer. However, body cameras pose significant implementation issues, specifically the public release of videos showing victims of violent crime or domestic abuse. The Public Information Act (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.
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. Additionally, the time and costs for attorney review and potential redaction of body camera video footage 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 31 addresses the concerns raised by the PIA while not altering rights under criminal or civil discovery or existing PIA exceptions.
Last year marked the first time this bill received a favorable report from JPR. This year, with near unanimous support by the committee, it is anticipated that the bill will pass through the Senate and move to the House for consideration. MACo thanks SB 31’s sponsor, Senator Charles E. Sydnor, III, for his continued support of the bill and advocacy on behalf of Maryland’s counties.