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Baltimore County buys its first police body cameras

The Baltimore County Police Department has selected Taser International to provide 1,455 body cameras for its officers, county officials confirmed Thursday.

They spoke after the company announced that it plans to deliver 170 cameras to county police this year, with the rest to be delivered over the next two years.

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County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson announced in September that they planned to begin outfitting officers with the devices this year, saying cameras would benefit both the public and police. But County Council members expressed surprise Thursday that a vendor had been selected, and some said the council should have been consulted.

"I think the council was blindsided by this," said Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican. "Regardless of where you are on the policy side of body cameras, the council is supposed to approve major expenditures."

Rob Stradling, director of the county's Office of Information Technology, said the purchase did not require council approval. The technology office regularly contracts for equipment such as computers and phones without going to the council, he said.

The eight-year contract with Taser totals roughly $12.5 million, Stradling said. The price includes the cost of the devices, data storage and management, and other expenses for the camera program. Funding will come from the county's red-light and speed-camera program.

Stradling said the county piggybacked on a Taser contract that was competitively bid in San Antonio. The county chose Taser because the company could provide both the cameras and the data storage, and its equipment has been used by many other police departments across the country, he said.

"We did not want to take a chance and do something that has not been demonstrated somewhere else," he said.

The first 150 cameras will be deployed in July, police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. The rest will be used starting in July 2017.

Republican Councilmen Wade Kach of Cockeysville and David Marks of Perry Hall said they had questions about the contract.

"I think many of us on the County Council are seeing that these body cameras are going to be an essential part of law enforcement," Marks said. "But there are concerns about how they are funded and now how this contract was approved."

Other council members did not respond to requests for comment.

The department has purchased cameras that can be worn on collars, glasses, hats, helmets and shoulders, said Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle.

Since September, an interagency group has been working on policies regarding officer use and the storage and release of camera footage, Armacost said.

Officials also are awaiting action by the General Assembly to develop certain procedures, she said.

A state commission on body cameras has recommended that state lawmakers amend the Maryland Public Information Act to specify how the release of police camera footage should be handled.

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Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Tuesday that Taser has been selected to outfit Baltimore police with body cameras beginning this year. City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and others have questioned the sealed-bid process set up to award the contract.

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