Sun Investigates

Footage from body cameras shows Baltimore officers on the job, and getting used to filming

The footage shows a Baltimore police officer walking up to the driver's side window of a car he'd just pulled over downtown. The audio begins a few seconds later.

"I must advise you for my safety and yours, this is recorded," the officer says to the woman behind the wheel.


She asks why she was pulled over, and he tells her she was "going straight in a turning lane for about three blocks."

"Can I just get the ticket and go please?" she says. "I don't want to be late for work."


"OK," the officer responds.

The officer then finds the woman's license is suspended. He asks her if she has someone who can come collect the vehicle so it doesn't have to be towed, but after 15 minutes he tells her that he had to order a tow truck — to which she complains.

"M'am I don't make up the rules," the officer says. "If you have a problem with it you're going to have to talk to your mayor. I have rules that I have to abide by, and now that we have body cameras I have to go line by line and we are not allowed to give discretion to anybody, because that's the way it is now."

The video from Nov. 2, obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Maryland Public Information Act request, is the first footage from a Baltimore police body camera to be viewed publicly. More than 150 officers in east, west and central Baltimore began wearing body cameras at the end of October as part of a pilot program that will test three different types of the camera technology before the department selects a single vendor to provide cameras to officers throughout the city under a permanent program next year. The pilot program lasts through Friday.

The footage and audio received by the Sun are clear. Nothing is blurred. (The Sun is blurring the image of the person captured on the video to protect her privacy). Officers appear to have the ability to begin recording video before they activate audio recording.

The launch of the pilot program reflects a national trend toward equipping law enforcement officers with cameras amid heightened scrutiny of police actions, particularly in urban and predominantly African American communities like Baltimore.

Citizen filming of police encounters — like the arrest of Freddie Gray in April, which spurred protests against police brutality and preceded rioting in the city — has also become far more common in recent years. Such citizen videos have led to police officers being charged with crimes but also to departments arguing that those videos don't show the officers' point of view in an encounter.

Footage captured by police departments has also led to officers being charged with crimes, as in the case of the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago which was captured on a police dashboard camera.


Several weeks before the launch of Baltimore's pilot program, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis cited the increase in citizen footage as a turning point for police that he welcomed.

"The environment right now, for whatever reason, seems to prompt this type of scenario, and we've just got to get our arms around it as a community and move forward," Davis said. "American policing is in the midst of a sea change, particularly with patrol officers. It's been referred to by many leaders in this profession as the 'YouTube effect.'"

He added, "I'm personally fine with that. I'm professionally fine with that. The more we have on camera, the better."

Legislators in Annapolis are expected to take up legislation to govern such programs statewide in January. The department's body camera program, the result of an independent city effort to adopt the technology, is meant to bring an added layer of transparency to the work officers do every day, Davis has said.

The program began Oct. 26. On Nov. 11, the Sun requested all video recorded by Central District police officers between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Nov. 2, about a week after the program began. The scope of the request was intended to allow for a quick response.

Last week, the Sun was told six videos were found matching the request.

In one, in which a driver is let off with a warning about an unclear issue with his tags, the driver can be heard asking for the officer's last name and badge number.


In another, two officers give a citation to a man who appears to be panhandling in the street — right outside of police headquarters.

"Just so you know, this is all being recorded, all right?" one officer says, as the other steps away.

"Sorry," the man says.

"No need to apologize. You see us come down here all the time, all right? You see everybody getting kicked out of here. You guys want to keep panhandling here, you're going to end up with tickets," the officer says.

"I didn't know that. It'll never happen again," the man says.

The other officer then walks back up.


"We got another call, so I'm not going to give you anything but I don't want to see you again, OK?" he says. "We're just real busy, but I don't want to see you out here doing this."

"You won't see me again," the man says.

"Let all your friends know, too, because we'll be back," the first officer says. "We'll start writing [citations] next time."

The three other videos provided to the Sun are all from the same traffic stop, from two officers' cameras.

The footage shows an officer walking up to the driver's side window of a van he'd just pulled over for having an upside-down license plate, and asking the driver for his license and registration.

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"This vehicle stop is being recorded, OK?" the officer says. The driver advises he just bought the van, but the tags are for another vehicle.


"What made you think it was OK to put the tags from the Lincoln on this car?" the officer asks. "Imagine if you got in an accident or something. You'd be in a world of trouble."

In the end, the officer finds the tags that are on the car are also expired. He gives the driver a ticket for operating an unregistered vehicle and using tags registered to another vehicle, "among other things," and tells him he will have to appear in court.

He also confiscates the expired tags.

"They ain't no good anyway," the officer says.