Laurel police have announced two new initiatives that aim to improve the public safety of Laurel citizens.
The first is the installation of signs along city roads reminding residents to stop at red lights. The new initiative is called "Stop Here on Red." It was unveiled Monday morning at Van Dusen Road near Laurel Regional Hospital.
The signs, which read: "Stop On Red," will be placed at the following locations:
Van Dusen Road north of Contee Road
Bowie Road north of Route 197
Seventh Street south of Main Street
Cherry Lane west of Fourth Street
Montgomery Street east of Patuxent Road
According to Laurel city spokeswoman Audrey Barnes, Laurel police gave out 2,471 red light citations last month; 70 percent of those citations were for right-hand turns on red without stopping.
Barnes said there have been seven accidents in the last 12 months caused by drivers running red lights.
The initiative has been supported by AAA Mid-Atlantic. According to a news release from the organization, the initiative was recommended by the organization to police.
"We applaud the City of Laurel and Chief McLaughlin for pioneering this practical, pragmatic and common-sense approach to alert the motoring public to the dangers of red-light running and the prospects of being slapped with a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at the intersection. This approach reduces the likelihood of both," said Mahlon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic's managing director of public and government affairs.
He added: "We call upon other police chiefs to follow Chief McLaughlin's example and other jurisdictions to follow Laurel's lead."
More officers now have body cameras
In addition to the signage, police also announced the enhancement of their police officer body camera program. Last week, police received a new shipment of 12 cameras to add to their existing inventory, which included 20 body cameras.
Now with 32 cameras, McLaughlin said 75 percent of the department's patrol officers can hit the streets with the equipment.
"It takes transparency to a whole new level," McLaughlin said. "They've been a tremendous asset to our department. It takes the guesswork out of any interaction between officers and citizens. It's all caught on tape."
McLaughlin said the city has committed approximately $60,000 to the program since it began in spring 2013.
The cameras are fixed to either the officer's eyewear or a headband. The 3-inch camera is connected to a 3-gigabyte memory and battery pack, which is also used to turn the camera on and off. Although the camera is not always "on," it is constantly recording and storing up to 30 seconds of footage, which allows an officer to play back some previous recording when an unexpected incident occurs.
All footage recorded by officers is uploaded to the city's server by plugging the device into a USB port. Officers can immediately view playback of the footage through an application on their smart phones, but no members of the police department are capable of editing the footage. Once uploaded, the footage can only be viewed by authorized personnel.
Police departments nationwide are exploring the change, especially in the wake of the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington has launched a pilot program of the body cameras. That program is expected to last six months. Last month, two Baltimore City Council members introduced legislation that would equip the city police force with cameras within a year.
While there has been widespread praise for the cameras, some police unions and elected officials have shown pause. But not in Laurel.
Laurel police Cpl. Jesse Conyngham, president of the Laurel FOP, said he is a big supporter of the program, and that most officers have received it well.
"There isn't 100 percent support, but the overwhelming majority is supportive of the program," he said. "I think it is unfortunate that it is kind of required now, but I think they are a fantastic tool."