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Crime

Audit: Baltimore Police officers submitted body-worn-camera footage improperly, 12% of CitiWatch cameras didn’t work

The Baltimore Police Department began using body-worn cameras in 2016 and has since issued them to more than 2,000 officers who have filmed more than 1 million videos annually.

But between 2016 and 2021, officers were found to have uploaded and categorized videos incorrectly, prompting the department to complete daily reviews of camera footage, according to a report released this month by the Office of Legislative Audits.

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The audit also examined CitiWatch cameras, which monitor public spaces for crime, and found that of more than 800 across the city, 12% were not functional. The department has said repairs are slow due to “long delivery times” for orders.

“Generally, surveillance equipment serves as an important law enforcement tool for both fighting crime and fostering trust between residents of the City and BPD,” the audit said.

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Monitoring footage from body-worn cameras is an important tool in checking whether officers comply with departmental policy, the audit said. Violations are referred to the department’s Public Integrity Bureau, or internal affairs, for additional investigation.

In response to the audit, police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said in a statement Monday that the department “already implemented necessary improvements” before the audit was released publicly.

The department made national headlines when an officer was captured on his own body-worn camera placing drugs in a vacant lot and then acting as if he had just discovered them. Officer Richard Pinheiro Jr. said he intentionally recorded the body-camera video to serve as a re-creation of a legitimate discovery of heroin, and was convicted of fabricating evidence a year later.

The department and the state’s attorney’s office regularly use footage from police-involved shootings and other incidents to investigate officers’ actions for criminal and administrative charges.

Additionally, the ongoing implementation of the department’s federal consent decree, which mandates sweeping police reforms, also requires the use of cameras and a policy that “addresses the use of cameras, retention of videos, access and privacy issues, the use of recordings as evidence in force and complaint reviews, and the use of recordings for other criminal justice purposes.”

Eldridge said the department has made changes to improve its body-worn-camera compliance.

“The vast majority of the time frame examined in the audit was when the [body-worn camera] administrators were assigned to BPD’s evidence section. Under Commissioner [Michael] Harrison’s administration, the unit was reassigned to the compliance bureau to focus more closely on the topics highlighted. Improvements have already been achieved and are mentioned in BPD’s audit response,” she said.

In a response to the state audit, Deputy Commissioner Michael Sullivan, who oversees the department’s Compliance Bureau, wrote that the agency already had been implementing changes to reduce body-worn-camera violations and improve internal audits.

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Baltimore Police now conduct “30 audits per month, at minimum” to evaluate officers’ body-worn-camera use and whether they are following policies, the agency said in response. For instance, “activation audits” evaluating whether officers started recording during an encounter with the public, or recorded an incident at all, have shown increasing compliance with departmental policy, the agency’s response said. A February 2022 audit found 10 activation violations out of 337 total videos.

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Police commanders also now evaluate “uncategorized” body-worn camera videos from the previous day that are distributed to command staff to allow them to take “corrective action” from “counseling and training, to formal discipline.” As a result, the department said the rate of uncategorized footage violations dropped to under 2%.

As for the broken CitiWatch cameras, the police department said, “CitiWatch is not a strictly BPD program. BPD is the main beneficiary, but the cameras are maintained by the city for all public safety and services.”

The department said improvements have been made, and now “there are formal procedures in place, including ticketing systems, automated email notifications,” resulting in a 93% operational rate for those cameras.

But the department also said there have been delays in repairs, citing “long delivery times for camera inventory orders.”

The audit said the department also has access to footage from 663 privately owned cameras registered under the Community Partnership Camera Program, about half of which are in the Southeastern District.

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The report also evaluated prisoner transport wagon cameras that were added after Freddie Gray died in 2015 from injuries suffered while being transported by van to the department’s Western District station. Six officers were charged in his arrest and death, but none were convicted.

The audit evaluated 18 vans with cameras and the state audit found policies relating to the van cameras were “sufficiently comprehensive, and procedures were consistent with BPD’s policies.”


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