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Aberdeen Police begin wearing body cameras

Aberdeen Police begin wearing body cameras
Aberdeen Police Officer Cynthia Mowery places her body-worn camera on her uniform vest as she prepares for her shift Monday evening. The police department began issuing body cameras to officers this week. (David Anderson / Baltimore Sun)

Aberdeen Police Officer Cynthia Mowery attached a body-worn camera to her uniform vest as she started her 6 p.m. shift Monday evening, marking the first time she has worn such a device.

“It’s not any additional weight,” said Mowery, who has been with the Aberdeen Police Department since January. “It doesn’t feel cumbersome on my uniform.”

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Patrol officers such as Mowery on the 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. shift Monday, plus the 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shift Monday night and Tuesday morning, are the first Aberdeen officers to bring body cameras to the streets.

The body-worn cameras, which are used to record audio and video of multiple types of interactions between police and citizens, will be issued to every city officer up to the rank of sergeant over the next two weeks.

Officers on the first two patrol shifts will evaluate and test the cameras this week, and then they will be issued to other patrol squads, followed by detectives, members of the special investigations unit and school resource officers, according to department spokesperson Officer Jason Neidig.

The Aberdeen Police Department will be the first law enforcement agency in Harford County that issues body-worn cameras to all patrol officers.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office has implemented a partial program with 20 cameras for 10 deputies, and the Town of Bel Air included about $30,400 in its budget for 30 cameras for its police force.

“The Sheriff is currently working on the agency’s FY2021 Capital Budget Funding Request to the County Executive that will again include full implementation of a Body Camera Program for consideration and funding,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cristie Hopkins wrote in an email.

Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore said training for the body camera program begins for Bel Air later this week, while the department’s deputy chief is working on a policy that will be instituted in the coming weeks to set the foundation of body camera program.

“Footage obtained from the body-worn cameras will aid in the documentation of officer’s actions as they serve the citizens of Aberdeen," according to an APD news release. “It should be noted that agencies that have implemented a body-worn camera program have experienced a reduction in the number of citizen complaints received on a yearly basis.”

Sean Seibel, police IT specialist for the Aberdeen Police Department, helps Officer Cynthia Mowery set up her body-worn camera as Mowery starts her shift Monday evening. Shift commander Sgt. James Evans is shown in the back of the room.
Sean Seibel, police IT specialist for the Aberdeen Police Department, helps Officer Cynthia Mowery set up her body-worn camera as Mowery starts her shift Monday evening. Shift commander Sgt. James Evans is shown in the back of the room. (David Anderson / Baltimore Sun)

Aberdeen Officer Mowery is in her first job as a uniformed police officer. She previously served as executive director of the Cecil County Local Management Board and spent four years as a civilian employee working with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office gang suppression unit.

“I think if it helps to increase the community’s confidence in us and makes them feel safer when we’re on a call, then I’m all for it,” Mowery said of police body-worn cameras.

Officer Andrew Davis, who has been with the department for two-and-a-half years, was finishing his 12-hour shift, which started at 6 a.m. He placed his unit in the docking station in the roll-call room; the docking station is used to charge camera batteries and to upload footage to a server for storage.

Davis said the camera is “simple to use, functionality wise.” He said people whom he interacted with in the community were understanding when he turned on the camera and informed them they were being recorded.

“I think, at this point, they kind of expect it,” he said.

Davis said he did his academy training in Baltimore County and recalled an officer with that county’s police department telling recruits how helpful body cameras have been.

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“He was able to show firsthand how the body-worn cameras helped tell his story,” Davis said.

Sgt. James Evans, commander of the 6 p.m. shift, also praised body cameras, noting the footage from fallen Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio’s body camera had been a key piece of evidence for the prosecution in the trial of 17-year-old Dawnta Harris of Baltimore City.

Evans said cameras “absolutely help law enforcement a million times more that they hurt us.”

“I think it’s showing more times than not police officer are out doing the right thing,” he added.

Some Aberdeen residents also expressed their support for the cameras. Cindy St. Hilaire and her two sons attended the police department’s Public Safety Day, a community policing event, at Festival Park Saturday. She and her family moved to Aberdeen earlier this summer from Brooklyn, N.Y., and she noted the New York Police Department uses body cameras.

“It could be helpful, if [Aberdeen officers] have it on and functioning, and things like that protect the [police] as well as citizens,” St. Hilaire said.

Resident Marla Posey-Moss thanked city leaders during a City Council meeting Monday evening for their support of equipping officers with body cameras.

“I think it works well for the public, and for police officers in general,” she said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The city will spend $250,000 over five years with the supplier of the body cameras, Axon. The company, formerly known as TASER International, is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to its website.

Axon is providing 84 cameras — two per officer for 38 officers plus eight backup units — as well as supporting equipment such as uniform mounting brackets, training, use of a Microsoft cloud platform to store all data recorded with the cameras, plus a docking station officers can use to charge the camera battery and upload footage to an Aberdeen Police web page on the company’s Evidence.com website, police department representatives told the mayor and council during an Aug. 12 work session.

Prosecutors with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office can review footage on Evidence.com. The body camera footage can be combined with footage from police car cameras and other data in “one unit” as prosecutors prepare a case, Donna Burdette, administrative supervisor with the police department, told city leaders.

“I’m excited that we’re at the front edge of this," Mayor Patrick McGrady said. "I know that not a lot of departments have the resources to do this, and I’m glad we have them and the council has voted to fund this program.”

Police Chief Henry Trabert thanked city officials for their “confidence in allowing us to put this program forward.” He noted he has talked with many people in the city who say they support having police body cameras.

“The public wants it, we want it; it’s important to me that we have it," he said. “I think it can only make us a better department.”

The police department will not record all encounters with the public, according the release. The cameras will be used:

  • At the initiation of a call for service or other activity that is enforcement or investigative
  • All enforcement and investigation related citizen contacts
  • Documentation of evidence that can be used in the prosecution of criminal and traffic offenses
  • Arrests and transports
  • Traffic stops
  • Priority responses
  • Vehicle and foot pursuits
  • Suspicious situations
  • All searches (persons, vehicles, structures, effects), except strip searches
  • Interviews and interrogations
  • Mental health interventions
  • Any contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact, in a situation that would not otherwise require recording

Officers do not need consent or permission from the public to begin a recording, but will notify members of the public they are being recorded, unless it is unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so, according to the release.

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