Aberdeen police officers could start wearing body cameras in July, Bel Air may soon follow

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Aberdeen Police could become the first law enforcement agency in Harford County to outfit all of its patrol officers with body cameras, with Bel Air officers following behind them in a few months.

Both police departments have included funding in their Fiscal Year 2020 budget requests to buy enough cameras for each patrol officer. Each municipality’s budget is in the final stages of review and could be approved in the next few weeks.

“Looking at studies around the country, they seem to make a difference,” Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore said. “Studies show complaints go down, use of force incidents go down.”

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office currently has 20 cameras for 10 deputies as part of a pilot program. The Sheriff’s Office had submitted a capital budget request to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman to begin a body-worn camera program, but Glassman did not include the request in the budget he submitted to and is under consideration by the Harford County Council, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cristie Hopkins said.

Aberdeen officers could be wearing body cameras as early as July if the City Council approves the funding in the FY2020 budget, Aberdeen Police Lt. Will Reiber said.

The department has already developed its policy and procedures for when and how the cameras will be operated, and the order is virtually ready to be submitted once the new fiscal year starts, as long as the money is approved, Reiber said.

“They’re a great vehicle for both the officer and the public, it protects civilians and law enforcement,” he said.

Aberdeen had budgeted $45,000 a year for five years to buy 38 cameras and for storage space and training. As an incentive, Axom — the company Aberdeen is buying the cameras from — will provide an additional 42 cameras so they can be changed in and out for charging purposes, Reiber said.

Each officer will be assigned two cameras, with four others that can be used by Chief Henry Trabert, the deputy chief and two lieutenants when they’re on the streets, Reiber said.

The department wore the cameras on the street for a one-month trial period and Reiber said they were useful.

“In the training we’ve gone to, anecdotally departments with body-worn cameras said they have fewer complaints and they are handled much more expeditiously because they have video of what occurred,” Reiber said

“As technology continues to improve and provide a greater level of opportunity for transparency within our profession, it is in lockstep with what we’re doing as a department and fulfills Chief Trabert’s mission of providing equipment not only to protect our officers but the citizens we serve.”

Videos taken from the cameras can also be used as learning tools, for police to look at an incident and see what good happened and what bad happened, Moore, Bel Air’s police chief, said.

“We fix those issues, or we can say ‘hey, something good happened here, let’s repeat it,’” Moore said. “Officers with body cameras, you’re getting the full story, not bits and pieces that can be manipulated. You know what you have.”

The budget presented to the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners, which could be approved Monday, includes $30,400 for 30 cameras for the each of the department’s 30 sworn officers, Moore said.

The package includes software to store the video, charging ports, training and the cameras, he said.

Moore doesn’t anticipate Bel Air officers will be wearing them immediately if the funding is approved by the commissioners.

The department has to make sure it has strong policies and procedures in place before they are used. He said it could be the middle of the budget year — December to January — before they begin using them.

Camera funding had been in the town’s budget two years ago, but it was eliminated by the commissioners.

Town administrator Jesse Bane has been reviewing each part of the budget with the commissioners during a series of work sessions and on Tuesday talked about the cameras.

After that session, Bane said he is “quite confident” commissioners will approve funding for body cameras for police officers in next year’s budget.

The county’s third municipal police department, Havre de Grace, would like to have body cameras, but the cost is too high.

“We definitely like them and what they do, but we don’t have the funding for them right now,” Cpl. Dan Petz said.

Sheriff’s Office request

The Sheriff’s Office requested $24,543 in its operating budget for FY2020 to maintain the body camera pilot program, Hopkins said.

The agency had requested $617,090 in this year’s capital budget to buy 300 cameras for 150 deputies — like Aberdeen, each deputy would be assigned two cameras — at a cost of $375,540, and three personnel to coordinate the program, at a cost of $226,236.

In the request, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler cited an incident in which a deputy used a body camera.

The deputy came in contact with “an aggressive and hostile individual” and while typically the deputy would have tried to negotiate with the person, or possibly use force, the deputy pointed to his camera “and the subject put his hands in the air and gave up.”

“In this case, the mere presence of the [body-worn camera] served to prevent a negative interaction between the citizen and the deputy,” according to the capital request.

Col. William Davis, chief deputy for the Sheriff’s Office, discussed the agency’s pursuit of body cameras during an April 29 Harford County Council work session on the Sheriff’s Office budget.

“We understand it is a huge budgetary constraint ... it is not a little bit of money when it comes to outfitting 300 cops with body cameras,” Davis said.

He noted members of the community and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union initially wanted body-worn cameras for police, but the cameras have also been beneficial for law enforcement as the technology “vindicates police officers when you get complaints on them, more times than you would imagine.”

“When it comes to civil litigation, it just becomes huge to save the county millions of dollars,” Davis said.

Councilman Curtis Beulah sought more details on the projected costs of the body cameras.

Sheriff’s Office Maj. Daniel Galbraith said it could cost $4 million to $5 million a year just to store the footage, plus eight to 12 additional staff would be needed for the Sheriff’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office to review the footage.

Davis added that staffers “have to watch all of that body camera footage.” He cited, as an example, a situation when 10 deputies spend one hour at the scene of an arrest and they all have body cameras.

“Now you have 10 hours of video — real time — 10 hours of video that somebody has to review for just one case,” Davis said.

Reporter David Anderson contributed to this article.

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