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Baltimore to take 4 years to fully implement body camera program, sparking criticism

According to newly disclosed documents, Baltimore officials will take four years to fully implement an agency-wide police body camera program — sparking criticism from City Council members who accuse the Rawlings-Blake administration of dragging its feet.

"It's totally unacceptable that we cannot have this body camera program implemented immediately," said City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "Our citizens want it. Our police officers want it. It will protect the citizens, and it will protect the police."

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City Councilman Nick Mosby said he's planning a hearing to demand that the administration "immediately" allocate funds so that cameras are placed on officers and in police vans.

"I don't understand this haphazard approach of going so slow," he said. "Baltimore City needs body cameras. Four years is just too long. They're dragging their feet."

The disclosures about the city's plans came from documents soliciting bids for contractors to work on the body camera program.

In a request for bids on the program, city officials wrote this month that the pilot program will last at least 60 days and include 155 officers, including 15 from the special enforcement section and 140 from the Eastern, Western and Central police districts.

City officials wrote that each shift would equip 11 or 12 officers with body cameras during the pilot program.

After the cameras are tested, city officials would begin to fully implement the program, equipping 500 officers over each of the next three years and 1,000 in the fourth year, for a total of 2,500 cameras.

Despite the language in the documents, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the mayor wants the program implemented "much faster."

"The mayor has made body cameras a priority," spokesman Howard Libit said. "The way the [request for proposals] is written is to afford the city the maximum flexibility. ... She wants to do it right and in a way that doesn't waste taxpayer dollars."

Rawlings-Blake said in February her goal was to have a citywide program by July 2016.

The mayor and City Council have repeatedly clashed over body cameras. The council passed a bill in 2014 requiring all 2,800 police officers to be equipped with the cameras within a year — but Rawlings-Blake vetoed the bill, criticizing it as rushed and wasteful. She appointed a task force to study the issue and pledged to move forward with a pilot program by the end of 2015.

"I would rather be thoughtful and right than fast and wrong," the mayor said last year. "The worst thing we can do ... is to roll out a program that hasn't been thought through."

The city will hold a pre-bid conference July 8 and the deadline for bids is July 29. The contract would expire after five years, with two one-year renewal options.

Data storage would be handled by the contractor, and data would be the sole property of the Police Department, not city government, according to the documents.

Young and Councilman Warren Branch introduced legislation in September that would requir every Baltimore police officer to wear a body camera within a year — a move they argued would cut down on police brutality in the aftermath of several high-profile misconduct allegations.

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At the time, Branch cited questions surrounding the in-custody death of Tyrone West in 2013 and a video showing an officer repeatedly punching a suspect, among other cases. Branch said Thursday the in-custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray — which led to weeks of protests and unrest — should cause the administration to approach the issue with more urgency.

"In the light of everything that just occurred, the public is hoping the actions they take would be much sooner," Branch said. "If it were up to me, we would have had body cameras already."

A six-month Baltimore Sun investigation revealed last year that taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 to settle 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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