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Baltimore County police chief defends shielding body camera video

Baltimore County Police Chief Terry Sheridan is expressing support for the county's body camera program and defending his department's decision not to release videos from recent incidents.

During a meeting of the Wilkens Precinct Community Relations Organization Tuesday night, Sheridan said he supports the state's attorney's decision not to release video until the conclusion of a trial, which he said follows national guidelines.

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By not releasing footage, potential jurors would not be prejudiced before a trial, the chief said.

After fast-tracking a $12.5 million program to equip its police officers with body cameras, the Baltimore County Police Department has declined to release

Sheridan said there's often footage that has no probative value, meaning the footage does not have the ability to make a point more or less true in a courtroom.

"We've taken the position that if it's something very graphic [and] it has no probative value, we aren't going to release that stuff because all that's going to do is sensationalize it," he said.

County police have shot six people in four separate incidents since January, killing two of them.

The department has body camera recordings from all of the incidents, but police have made the videos public in only one case, saying that they are still investigating the other shootings or that county prosecutors have told them the footage is evidence in forthcoming trials.

"Release could compromise the prosecution and the defendants' right to fair trials," police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun in April.

The spokeswoman said the department treats body camera footage "as any other public record, subject to release as long as there are no investigatory or legal exceptions."

She said there has been no change in policy since Sheridan took over. The department has always planned to make case-by-case decisions on releasing footage, she said.

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Otis Collins, president of WPCRO, said while he doesn't have a problem with police withholding footage during an investigation, the public should be able to see the images, generally speaking.

"We have the right to know because we pay for those cameras," he said. "We're paying for the service for those cameras, we're paying for these police officers and we should collectively as a community support our police officers with those cameras, as well as have the opportunity to ensure that they are carrying out the services we are paying for."

Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence Sheridan met with members of the Precinct 6 Police & Community Relations Council Tuesday night to discuss crime trends in the region, state, country and world.

The department first issued body cameras last July as part of a $12.5 million program, and about 550 of the county's 1,900 officers have them.

Sheridan anticipates the department having 1,450 cameras by the end of September. The cameras are typically worn on an officer's glasses or uniform epaulettes — a shoulder piece that typically illustrates an officer's rank.

Sheridan said, based on the footage he has seen from the cameras, that the department is not violating policy nor the law. He said the technology is a boon to law enforcement.

"I think it's a good program," he said. "It's moving ahead and I think we're going to do well with it."

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Sheridan was named police chief in January by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, replacing Jim Johnson. Sheridan was chief of the department from 1996 until 2007, when he became superintendent of the Maryland State Police.

About 25 members of the police advisory group were on hand for the presentation in Arbutus.

The Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Pamela Wood contributed to this report.



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