Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Monday announced his plans to fully fund the county’s new body-worn police camera program by October.
At a news conference outside the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, Ball said he plans to file an amendment to the fiscal 2022 budget requesting the County Council move all of the funding for the program out of contingency — about a half-million dollars — and allocate $1.6 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan to the program. The amendment will need council approval to pass.
These funds, combined with $1 million in preliminary funding for equipment and licensing that was set aside during the fiscal 2022 budget process, would support “full implantation” of the program beginning Oct. 5, pending the County Council’s approval of the budget amendment on Oct. 4, Ball said.
“I am hopeful that we will secure the votes needed to release the remaining funding from the contingency reserved fund,” Ball said, “and serve as continued partners to ensure support for both our community and law enforcement officials.”
The funding for the camera program was initially put into contingency during the fiscal 2022 budget process in the spring to give additional money to the Howard County Public School System, instituting a delay in the program’s implementation that had been scheduled to start this summer.
“I am quite pleased that the county executive is using the American Rescue Plan money that we have received to pursue this program,” said council member Deb Jung, District 3. “Many in our community, as well as our state’s attorney, police department and sheriff’s department, have been looking forward to getting this program off the ground as soon as possible.”
Ball said the $3.1 million would be used to hire 26 “essential positions” across the county police department, the state’s attorney office and the sheriff’s department; to purchase 600 cameras for 300 uniformed police officers that have “direct and regular contact” with the public; to expand storage capacity and acquire the necessary software; and to procure additional equipment for the deputies in the sheriff’s department.
“Police accountability is a fundamental tenet of our agency and these new body-worn cameras will contribute to that commitment,” Police Chief Lisa Myers said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing the outstanding relationships of trust and transparency our police department has long-established with the community.”
If the funding is approved, Ball hopes to have the program in place by next May, ahead of the state’s mandate for body-worn cameras in larger jurisdictions by summer 2023.
“I understand this has been a long and sometimes frustrating process, roughly six years in the making,” Ball said. “Seeing this program come to fruition in fiscal year  has remained a priority.”
Howard County police participated in a body-worn camera pilot program in summer 2017 that ended in fall 2018. The three major barriers to instituting the program, Ball said, were budgetary concerns, lack of storage space and lack of staffing.
In February 2020, the County Council approved a 10-year agreement to lease 32,028 square feet at the Oracle Building on Columbia Gateway Drive to be used by the police department.
“The agreement was months in the making,” Ball said. “It has always been my goal to develop solutions and to overcome the previously cited challenges for implementing body-worn cameras for our public safety team and our community.”
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Ball said he intends ”to push for sufficient funding” in each budget cycle to fully implement the body-worn camera program.
“This is a priority,” Ball said.
According to a county news release, the police department anticipates using the vendor from its pilot program, Axon, and expects to begin acquiring equipment and conducting officer training as soon as the funding becomes available.
State’s Attorney Rich Gibson called the body cameras “a tool … to protect the truth.” The state’s attorney’s office will be responsible for reviewing the footage, and Gibson said all footage from the body cameras would be available to the public, though when would depend on each individual case.
“Investigations don’t have a timeline,” Gibson said. “Investigations take as long as they take to do them thoroughly. At the conclusion on an investigation … we will not stand in the way of releasing any information to the public. The information will be shared with the community.”
Howard County Sheriff Marcus Harris said the cameras would “create trust and transparency” between Howard County residents and law enforcement.
“I am 100% in favor of body-worn cameras,” Harris said.