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After ‘positive’ trial period, Westminster police to purchase body-worn cameras

The Westminster Police Department is purchasing body-worn cameras for its officers.

Thomas Ledwell, chief of the department, requested and received Westminster’s city council’s approval to move forward with the purchase of five cameras. His department is part of a work group with Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the state’s attorney’s office that have been examining the cameras. The sheriff’s office was scheduled to have a presentation on the body-worn cameras during the weekly Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday, but the meeting was postponed until Tuesday due to inclement weather.

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The Hampstead Police Department already uses body-worn cameras (BWC).

“In light of the recent nationwide police reform movement, proposed State of Maryland legislation includes a bill to mandate use of BWC by police departments by 2023-2025,” Ledwell’s meeting document stated.

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Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell poses for a portrait at his post on the city staff desk at the Westminster Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, March 11, 2019.
Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell poses for a portrait at his post on the city staff desk at the Westminster Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, March 11, 2019. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times / Carroll County Times)

Ledwell said at the Feb. 8 Westminster Mayor and Common Council meeting that multiple bills have been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly regarding body cameras. He said he is unsure if the bills will pass but wanted to be prepared. He said later in an interview that Westminster will use body cameras regardless.

Ledwell said during the meeting that the work group discussed how the cameras will be implemented, staffing requirements and the workload behind the scenes that will involve the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s office. Officials will have to determine which part of the footage would be used for prosecution, for example. They also have to figure out what needs to be expunged or shielded.

The department has used body-worn cameras for the past 60 days for a test trial. Ledwell said the trial and evaluation period was positive and officers told him that the presence of the camera deescalated at least one incident. His report states the cameras also captured potential evidence in several cases.

Ledwell said they want to do an incremental implementation of the cameras to work out the bugs and to not overwhelm the state’s attorney’s office “with more footage than they’re prepared to handle.” He proposed having the 46 sworn officers share cameras to start. The day shift officers can give cameras to the night shift officers, he added.

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The purchasing of cameras from Motorola Solutions’ WatchGuard Inc. comes with an upfront hardware cost of $7,000, and the five cameras have a monthly fee of $69 per camera. The docking station will cost $30 a month. Covered in the cost are new cameras every three years and the replacement of a camera if one breaks. Ledwell said the camera system is cloud-based and there are no server costs internally. His report states the department can staff existing employees for the program in fiscal 2022.

The cameras also require a policy, Ledwell said. The policy, created by Ledwell, includes what officers can and cannot record and when to keep it on or off.

“I like the idea of staging this very much as opposed to just jumping in,” Tony Chiavacci, council member, said.

He said he spoke to some of the officers wearing them and they saw it as a positive.

“When people realize they’re being recorded, they tend to act a little bit differently,” Chiavacci said.

He brought up how it will cost an ongoing $60,000 a year and that they will eventually need about 15 cameras rather than five.

“That’s not chump change,” he added.

Council member Ann Gilbert said she had a feeling body worn cameras will eventually be mandated. She said it will benefit both the officers and the public.

“Because I know transparency is a huge issue that we’re trying to share with the public,” Gilbert said. “This is a great way to demonstrate that.”

Council member Kevin Dayhoff called the cameras a “great tool in our toolbox” and added that it’s getting positive attention.

“I think that this is the future,” he said. “I’m happy we’re ahead of the curve on this.”

Council president Gregory Pecoraro said to keep an eye on any financial aid the city can get from the state and federal government.

“Sounds like to me you’ve got the council’s blessing moving forward,” he said.

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