Kamenetz and Johnson to announce body camera program

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson will unveil plans Thursday to equip county police officers with body cameras, according to officials who were briefed on the plans.

The program is likely to be phased in over three years and cost roughly $7 million, officials said.


Their decision to go forward with body cameras conflicts with the recommendations of an internal work group assigned to study the issue. The group — made up mostly of Police Department leaders — concluded that the county should delay a camera program to allow more study of costs, citizen privacy and other concerns.

The highly publicized deaths of civilians, many of them young black men, at the hands of police have fueled calls nationwide for officers to wear body cameras that would record their interactions with the public.


The Obama administration launched a $20 million program in May to help outfit police departments with body cameras and teach officers how to use them, and the Maryland General Assembly considered several bills this year to regulate the devices.

Departments throughout the region are exploring their use. Baltimore plans to start a pilot program, possibly as soon as October. Anne Arundel and Howard counties have also been studying body cameras. The City of Laurel has outfitted officers with the devices since 2013.

Baltimore County has been trying out Taser cameras since March.

Neither the Kamenetz administration nor the Baltimore County Police Department would comment Wednesday on their plans. Don Mohler, a spokesman for Kamenetz, would say only that the county executive and police chief had scheduled a public safety announcement for Thursday afternoon.


In general, contracts exceeding $25,000 require county council approval.

A state commission that has studied body cameras has an Oct. 1 deadline to make recommendations for how police departments should use them. The panel is to address questions such as when they should be turned off, how the video should be stored and who should be able to obtain the video footage.

Kamenetz announced plans to study body cameras in December, amid a national debate over police officers' use of force.

Johnson convened the work group, led by Maj. Mark Warren of the Police Department's Criminal Information and Analysis Division. Members included State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, Sheriff R. Jay Fisher, Police Department employees, police union representatives, and members of the county's information technology office.

The panel's 100-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun, points to possible obstacles, including significant equipment and staffing costs and the likelihood of increased public information requests.

The report, which has not been released to the public, was dated April 2015. Fifteen of the group's 18 members opposed going forward with a camera program.

"At this time the cost of a ... program outweighs the expected benefits," the group concluded.

Police union officials said they do not support the body camera plan. In a statement, the union said Wednesday that county officers "enjoy a good working relationship with the community we serve."

"While [body cameras] may be an appropriate and much needed tool in some police agencies, there have been no significant incidents or systematic problems within the department resulting in a call from the community for [body cameras]," Baltimore County F.O.P. Lodge 4 said.

Second Vice President David Rose said the use of police force and citizen complaints in the county have fallen.

Councilman Julian Jones, a Democrat from Woodstock, said Johnson called him Wednesday to notify him that the county would move forward with body cameras. Jones said he needed more information before he can decide whether to back the program.

On one hand, Jones said, the county has few complaints about police officers' actions. On the other hand, he said, video footage from a body camera could be valuable evidence in the event of a problem.

"I don't know if it's wanted, needed or necessary," Jones said.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, is skeptical.

"Historically, these body cameras have been used in jurisdictions where there's mistrust of police," he said. "I don't see that [in the county], and it's a lot of money to be spending when we have many priorities."

Other council members did not respond to requests for comment.

Tony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP, said he did not know details of the county's plans. In general, he said, the organization supports body cameras, which members believe can improve police accountability.

"The camera doesn't lie," he said.

Fugett said NAACP members met once with the county's body camera work group, but have not seen its recommendations.

"We did not have any input," Fugett said.

Fugett said he and African-American ministers are scheduled to meet with Johnson and Kamenetz on Thursday morning and were expecting to discuss traffic stops of minorities. They had requested the information about traffic stops at a meeting several months ago, he said.



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