Baltimore County plans to outfit its police officers with body cameras beginning next summer, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and police Chief Jim Johnson announced Thursday.
The camera program will start with 150 officers in July, with more than 1,400 officers scheduled to receive the devices the following year.
Some County Council members and police union leaders questioned the need for the program and its cost, which is projected at $7.1 million for the first five years. But Kamenetz and Johnson said the department needs to embrace the technology to increase public trust in the department, which has about 1,900 members.
"[Cameras] are going to improve the behavior of a police officer and the citizen during every interaction," Kamenetz said at a news conference at police headquarters in Towson.
While many council members are skeptical of the plan, "there may be a limited ability for the County Council to change it," said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.
Kamenetz is expected to include expenses for the program in his next budget, which the council has little authority to alter.
A vendor for the cameras has not been selected.
A large part of the program's expense will be the personnel needed to redact sensitive information — such as victims' personal information — from footage requested by the public, Kamenetz said.
Officials estimate they will need to hire 21 people to manage the program, including officers, attorneys and public-information specialists. It can take five minutes of staff time to redact one minute of footage, Kamenetz said.
Plainclothes officers will not be required to wear the devices. School resource officers could also be exempt because of concerns about filming minors.
Calls for body cameras have been made across the country amid protests over officer conduct and the deaths of citizens, many of them black men, at the hands of police.
Baltimore County police have shot five people this year, three of them fatally.
David Rose, second vice president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, questioned the need for body cameras.
"The statistics just do not justify the expense," said Rose, adding that the department has 38 unfunded positions. "I see no other reason to jump into this except for politics."
The annual number of complaints against officers fell about 43 percent between 2009 and 2014 — from 156 complaints to 89 — even as the county's population grew in that time, according to figures provided by the union.
Johnson said the department wants to sit down with the union to develop a camera policy that will be "a win-win" for both sides.
A county work group that studied body cameras concluded that the benefit of the devices would not justify the cost. Fifteen of 18 members opposed moving forward with a program.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, a member of that group, said he is concerned about an increased workload for his staff but has been given assurances that new job openings will be funded. He estimates his office — which now has 120 employees — will need seven to 10 additional members, including attorneys and paralegals, to handle redaction.
"We have an obligation to protect victims' and witnesses' personal information," Shellenberger said. "Usually when a police officer's camera is rolling, people are not at their best."
The County Council will review the county executive's budget proposal in the spring.
"I'm not against body cameras, per se, but this is a low-priority issue for Baltimore County," said Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican. "We have one of the best-trained police forces with a low complaint volume."
Crandell said nine of the public schools in his district lack air conditioning, and $7 million could probably add central air conditioning to at least two of them.
Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, also questioned whether body cameras should be a top priority for spending limited tax dollars.
"I'm open to listening, but concerned about the money and where our priorities are, considering the fact our police have good relationships with the people in the community," Kach said.
Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, noted that Baltimore City recently agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured in police custody this spring. Video footage of police encounters could help the county defend against lawsuits, he said.
"If there is a problem that does occur, the cameras might protect not only the citizen but the police officer, because everything is clearly documented," Quirk said.
Baltimore officials have selected three finalists to participate in a pilot program for police body cameras there, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday. The pilot program will begin Oct. 26 and conclude Dec. 18.
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.