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After Freddie Gray's death, Baltimore to spend $187,000 to equip police vans with cameras

Major changes for Baltimore City police vans. Close to a quarter of a million dollars will soon be spent on new designs. Rick Ritter reports.

Baltimore officials will pay a Florida company $187,000 for video cameras to record what happens inside police vans.

The decision comes after Freddie Gray, 25, suffered deadly injuries in the back of a police van last year.

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The city's Board of Estimates approved a contract Wednesday with Point Blank Enterprises Inc., which won a bidding contest among six firms.

Point Blank "received a top tier technical score and provided the lowest price of the two technically responsive bidders," city officials wrote in board documents.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said adding the cameras is one piece of a larger effort — including equipping officers with body cameras and working with the Department of Justice on reforms — to build more accountability into policing in Baltimore.

"The driver has had the ability to see in the back. That information has not been able to be recorded," Rawlings-Blake said. "It will be helpful to have a better understanding in the department, a better understanding in the public, about the procedures for transporting suspects, as well as the conditions.

"Any time you are able to shine a light on it, it leads to better understanding and better accountability."

The mayor's administration asked companies in August for proposals to supply "in-vehicle video camera" systems for the Police Department's 23 transport vans. The city expects the systems to be equipped with GPS and touch screens and come with a training program for how to use the devices.

The most expensive bid came from Annapolis-based TeleCommunications System Inc., which proposed a contract of $632,000. The least expensive bid came from Kansas-based Digital Ally Inc., which proposed a $43,000 contract.

Gray sustained a severe spinal injury in the back of a police van after his arrest April 12; he died a week later. Six officers are charged in his death.

Several detainees have sued the department over the years, alleging they were hurt in so-called rough rides in police vans — most notably the relatives of Dondi Johnson Sr., who won a $7.4 million court judgment when he was left paralyzed, and soon died, after a 2005 police van ride that left his neck fractured. (A court later lowered the amount of the settlement.)

The contract is the second that city officials have proposed in recent months to prevent detainees from suffering injuries while in police custody.

In January, the spending board agreed to buy $200,000 worth of equipment that police say will improve the safety of the vans. The money paid for dividers to further separate detainees.

Rawlings-Blake said the goal was to improve the vans for passengers and for police. The Board of Estimates voted to authorize the Police Department to add new dividers to 13 existing vans and to 10 more that the department is buying.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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