MACo Opposes Speed Camera & Red Light Camera Ban

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to legislation (HB 536) that would ban the use of local government speed cameras, highway work zone speed cameras, and red light cameras. The bill was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23, 2017. Delegate Warren Miller sponsored the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

Both red light camera and speed camera programs have been shown to be effective in altering driver behavior and increasing public safety. Various studies have shown that red light cameras reduce the number of serious and fatal “t-bone” vehicle crashes.

As for local speed camera programs, in August of 2015, WTOP news reported that speed camera tickets have dropped significantly in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as drivers altered behavior and reduced their speeds in targeted zones [Citation omitted]….

Wicomico County ended its speed camera program in December of 2015 because the program has been successful in reducing speeding in targeted school zones. [Citation Omitted]

Finally, this Committee and the General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 (HB 929 and SB 350) that comprehensively updated the local speed camera statute. The update included both additional program safeguards and necessary clarifications. The bills passed with bi-partisan support and had the support of MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, and AAA-Mid Atlantic. There have been no significant reported issues with local speed camera programs since the passage of the legislation and a repeal of the programs is unnecessary and unwarranted.

Useful Links

HB 536 of 2017

MACo Testimony on HB 536

Delegate W. Miller Webpage

MACo Bill Tracking Tool

MACo and Partners Support Initiative Bills on Police Body Camera Footage

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, testified in support of a pair of cross-filed bills, Senate Bill 970 and House Bill 767, “Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee on February 21, 2017.

The bills are one of MACo’s four legislative initiatives for 2017.  Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City saw the issue of  how body camera footage is treated under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) as vitally important to address. Joining MACo in support of these bills were Bill Jorch, Maryland Municipal League; Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, Baltimore City; John Fitzgerald, Chief of Police, Chevy Chase Village (representing the Maryland Association of Chiefs of Police and the Maryland Sheriffs Association); and Lisae Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel for the Maryland Coalitions Against Sexual Assault.

The bills would create a needed policy on how police body camera video would be handled under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The bills would provide for: (1) law enforcement officer accountability and transparency; (2) protection for victims of abuse, domestic violence or sexual attacks; and (3) clarity of and protection from potentially abusive requests to local government and State records custodians. MACo believes these bills achieve these necessary protections for all parties without altering any current discovery rights or PIA exceptions.

From MACo testimony:

 MACo believes that SB 970 offers a thoughtful and reasonable solution to the issues posed by police body cameras under the PIA. The bill ensures police officer accountability and transparency, includes victim protections, and addresses the expense and potential for abusive requests facing local governments and State records custodians.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

“Carl Henn’s Law” to Advance 9-1-1 Heard in Senate

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, provided testimony in support with amendments of Senate Bill 466, “Public Safety – 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System – Revisions (Carl Henn’s Law),” before the Senate Finance Committee on February 14, 2017.

SB 466 would enhance public safety communications in Maryland and in our local communities by ensuring a smooth transition to a highly effective, coordinated Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) system.

From the MACo testimony,

Maryland’s 9-1-1 system enables the public to place voice calls requesting emergency assistance. This is an important and reliable service that saves lives, but it has serious limitations. The vision of a NG911 system is to enable the public to make voice, text, or video calls from any communications device via Internet Protocol based networks. These capabilities can make public safety both more effective and more responsive.

The transition to NG911 cannot be achieved without significant funding to upgrade our existing 9-1-1 equipment and communications systems, which are already under-funded through existing user fees. SB 466 would conform Maryland’s fee structure to that of virtually every other state, and would provide an additional revenue source to offset 9-1-1 operational costs and for the transition to NG911.

County government officials also testified on the importance of taking steps to strengthen our public safety communications system. Representatives from local 9-1-1 call centers, local police, and local emergency management agencies testified in support of the bill.

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From Left to Right: Luther Reynolds, Montgomery County, Tony Rose, Charles County, Senator Cheryl Kagan, Charlynn Flaherty, Prince Georges County, Jennifer Swisher, Washington County

Carl Henn was a Rockville resident who was struck by lightning at King Farm Park in 2010. Witnesses were unable to reach 9-1-1 due to busy signals.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Baltimore City Police Launch Treatment Diversion Program

The Baltimore City Police Department is launching a three year pilot program to divert low level drug and prostitution offenders to treatment instead of jail.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, is based on a treatment and support services model in Seattle and a handful of other cities across the country. It opens in Baltimore after more than a year of planning here.

It is consistent with commitments by Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to find ways to avoid “unnecessary incarceration” of addicts and the mentally ill, as well as with directives in Baltimore’s proposed police reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“All too often in our city and our country we handcuff, charge and incarcerate people who are addicted to drugs,” Davis said during a news conference Monday launching the program. “They’re suffering from substance abuse, and incarceration does little if anything to cure them of that addiction. So there has to be a different way.”

Under the program, police officers who detain individuals suspected of prostitution or misdemeanor drug possession will be able to call case managers with Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. instead of booking the suspects on criminal charges. The pilot approach will apply to arrests in the western half of downtown. More than 120 officers have received training for the program, Davis said.

The case managers, under oversight by Behavioral Health System Baltimore, will provide services including drug treatment, mental health services and housing aid, officials said.

Read The Baltimore Sun for more information.

Talbot County Completes Phase One of Public Safety Upgrade

January 30 was homecoming for the Talbot County Department of Emergency Services.

Departmental personnel moved into a newly renovated 9-1-1 Communications Center at 605 Port Street after a 14-month absence. What’s more, their return marked the final step in a creative and strategic merger between the Town of Easton’s Police Department and Talbot County Emergency Services.

“Talbot County Emergency Services is now providing police dispatching services for the Town of Easton,” DES Director Clay Stamp explains. “The consolidation of our dispatching services allows for more direct communication between emergency callers and the dispatch of officers.”

Stamp and Easton Police Chief David Spencer had been discussing such a merger for some time, but the renovation of the 9-1-1 Center provided the perfect opportunity to implement their plan.

“We were both having a hard time finding and keeping competent dispatchers, and we were competing with each other for the best people,” Spencer notes. “Their dispatchers were already working closely with our police officers, but they weren’t connected closely with each other. Merging the departments just made sense on a lot of fronts.”

With the closing of the 9-1-1 Center, Talbot County’s dispatchers moved to the Easton Police Department. Having the two groups of employees work closely together before the merger helped lay the ground work for a successful transition.

“This merger is good for everyone,” Spencer says. “It makes good fiscal sense, and it makes a better product for the public and for the first responders. We can get the resources to people a lot faster now than we could before, and it makes a better flow of information between the dispatchers and the fire and emergency responders.”

In conjunction with the move, Talbot County also switched to the statewide Motorola Maryland First Responder Radio Communications System for all radio communications. Public safety and emergency personnel will benefit by having enhanced regional and statewide radio interoperability with direct communication links to State agencies.

A new 9-1-1 Emergency Call Works phone system also was installed. Through the use of state-of-the-art enhanced mapping technology, dispatchers now have the ability to obtain the location of callers requesting assistance through 9-1-1.

In the coming months, Talbot County DES will be rolling out a new Caliber Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that will allow dispatchers to track resources and better communicate with law enforcement and emergency responders through mobile terminals. This is the same system the State policing agencies already use to communicate and share information.

“These public safety technology upgrades will significantly enhance Talbot County’s ability to serve the public safety and emergency services needs of its citizens,” says Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams. “Partnering with the State of Maryland and leveraging the use of numerous technologies demonstrate creativity from both cost and performance perspectives.”

For more information, please contact Clay Stamp, Talbot County Emergency Services Director/Asst. County Manager.

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (February 10): Police Body Cameras

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally will be joined by MACo Legal and Policy Associate, Les Knapp and MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu to discuss HB 767 / SB 970, legislation that aims to balance the release of police body camera footage, a MACo Legislative Initiative. Call in for an update on police body cameras, public safety, and more!

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Submit your questions in advance by e-mailing Kevin Kinnally.

Court of Appeals Unanimously Approves Changes to Bail Rules

The Maryland Court of Appeals has approved changes to the state’s court rules governing the use of bail that are intended to prevent defendants from being held in jail pretrial simply because they cannot afford bail.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The seven-member Court of Appeals unanimously agreed on a compromise that preserves money bail when it is the least onerous way to ensure a defendant appears for trial.

The rule won praise from both bail reform advocates and the bail bond industry, which felt threatened by the original proposal from the court’s rules committee.

The court’s action, which does not require legislative approval, largely accepts the legal reasoning of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. The state’s chief lawyer, a Democrat, issued advice last year that it is unconstitutional to hold a defendant in jail for no reason other than an inability to afford money bail.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, rule changes were proposed to provide clearer guidance for taking a defendants financial circumstances into consideration for setting of bond when the defendant is considered a flight risk or a danger to society. The changes stemmed from a letter of advice issued by the Attorney General stating that the current system could be found to be unconstitutional and in violation of due process.

For more information read:

Maryland Court of Appeals: Defendants can’t be held in jail because they can’t afford bail (The Baltimore Sun)

Prior coverage on Conduit Street:

Court of Appeals Delays Vote on Bail Changes

MACo To Courts: Remember “Big Picture” Amidst Bail Changes

Court Committee Votes to Amend Bail Rules

MACo Supports DHCD Sprinkler Assistance Bill, Asks for Local Consultation

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu testified in support of HB 107 with amendments before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on January 31, 2017. The bill would allow the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to provide funding assistance through either its Community Development Administration or Down Payment and Settlement Expense Loan Program for construction, purchase or financing of a single-family home, not in a Priority Funding Area, if DHCD determines the cost of compliance with building and fire codes makes it difficult for a low- or moderate-income family to purchase a newly constructed single-family home.

The bill was sponsored by DHCD and is intended to help offset the heightened costs of installing sprinkler systems in new workforce and low-income housing in rural areas. MACo and the Rural Counties Coalition (a MACo Chapter Organization) has supported creating some form of relief for the problem. From the MACo testimony:

Since the passage of the sprinkler system mandate in 2012 (HB 366/SB 602), rural areas have witnessed a dramatic reduction in building permits for moderate- and low-income housing. Sprinkler systems not on public water can require high pressure pumps and water storage tanks that may add $10,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a new home – a significant cost in a rural area for a home designed for a moderate- to low-income family. HB 107 would help address this issue by providing a limited funding mechanism to offset costly sprinkler and similar building code mandates.

Mehu also proposed an amendment to the bill to require DHCD to consult with county governments and address county concerns before implementing any such funding program within a county. The Maryland Municipal League also testified in support of the bill and offered a similar consultation amendment to MACo’s for municipal growth areas.

Useful Links

HB 107 of 2017

MACo Testimony on HB 107

DHCD Website

MACo Supports Bill Preventing Frivolous Charges Against Correctional Officers

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 207, “Criminal Procedure – Charges Against Correctional Officer – Review by State’s Attorney,” to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on January 31, 2017.

Under SB 207, charges against a correctional officer for offenses alleged to have been committed during the course of duty must first be reviewed and determined reasonable and appropriate by a state’s attorney before they can be filed against the officer. This protection is currently afforded to law enforcement officers, emergency services personnel, and educators.

From MACo testimony:

The bill would protect correctional officers from charges brought in retaliation or made in an attempt to harass an officer. It ensures that charges are only pursued in cases where the alleged offenses are well-founded. This protects correctional officers from the time and expense of frivolous litigation, while safeguarding accountability when charges are truly warranted.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

City Police Launch Mobile App

The Baltimore City Police Department has launched a mobile app to help residents engage with the department and receive important information.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

“We think that this will assist in both the crime fight and our interactions with everyday citizens,” said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. “Our goal is to make it easy and simplistic for people to connect.”

Through the app, residents will be able to make anonymous tips, and even engage in dialogue with an officer. Davis said the app will be constantly monitored, and tips related to homicides or nonfatal shootings will be given priority.

He said tips to the department increased 174 percent in 2016 over 2015 after the launch of an anonymous text-to-tip line — 443-902-4824 — and he hopes the app will continue growing the amount of information the department receives from the community.

Davis said the administration of Mayor Catherine Pugh is fully behind the launch of the app and the drive toward greater transparency. He cited studies that have shown more Americans are getting more of their news from mobile phones.

For more information read The Baltimore Sun