The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has taken the first steps toward implementing a state-required body-worn and in-car camera program for all of its deputies. It will be at least a year until the cameras will be installed and used in the county, officials estimate.
On Thursday the Board of Carroll County Commissioners unanimously approved a $1.4 million contract to purchase the cameras and related equipment for the sheriff’s office from Motorola Solutions, Inc., of Chicago. The sheriff’s office applied for and was awarded funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program in 2021. The program provides federal criminal justice funding to states and local government units.
The funds will cover the purchase of body-worn cameras, in-car cameras, video storage, hardware, software, licensing, training, installation and related equipment for deputies for the next five years.
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 was enacted in March 2021 by the General Assembly. Among other requirements, it states all law enforcement agencies in Maryland must provide officers who regularly interact with members of the public as part of their official duties with a body-worn camera by 2025.
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and several other police departments in the county, including Hampstead and Westminster, participated in a pilot program to test video recording technology starting in October 2020, in anticipation of the legislation. In early 2021, Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said he had not been in favor of using body-worn cameras until he and his deputies participated in the pilot program. His opinion changed after he and his officers saw the value in the footage, he said at the time.
“Once we went through the pilot program the deputies were saying, ‘Let’s do it,’” DeWees said in February 2021. “They like them. It keeps everyone in check, it holds us accountable, and it also holds the people we have contact with accountable.”
DeWees said Thursday that deputies want to begin using the cameras as soon as possible, but he has been telling them, “Hold on, we have to do this the right way.”
It will take some time to implement the camera program, DeWees said, telling commissioners Thursday that this contract “is a tremendous piece to the project.
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“It’s not as simple as just buying this stuff, putting it in a car and just saying go out and start recording. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
DeWees said the next challenge will be hiring staff to oversee the body-worn and in-car camera unit program.
“One of the interesting things is the way we are setting up our cars, so that we don’t overwhelm the county’s server system with all this data that will come in,” he said. “If we put all these cameras on the county’s server it would crash rather quickly.”
The sheriff’s office is developing its own server system, in order to lessen the impact on the county’s servers.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a Republican who represents District 4, commended DeWees.
“I remember when this originally came up there was a lot of controversy over it one way or another, whether we should have it or not, and you recognized the long-term importance of this, and how important this is that we get it right,” he said. “Because this can cost us criminal cases if it’s not set up properly.”