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A more thoughtful body camera approach

In last week's Sun editorial "Mayor and City Council: Disagreeing When They Agree" (Nov. 14), the message was clear: The City Council and I need to work together to ensure police body cameras are brought to Baltimore.

I agree, and despite my differences with the council on this particular piece of legislation, we will work together to bring body cameras to Baltimore City.

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As I've noted several times before, I am 100 percent in support of police body cameras, but the citizens deserve for it to be done right.

My administration has been criticized for pursuing a more thoughtful approach, but I know that no matter how strong the criticism now, it pales in comparison to the consequences for our citizens if we fail to get this right.

I don't want to stand alone, but if I have to stand alone and fight to make sure we do this right, then I will. Not because I care who gets credit but because I care who gets hurt if we fail.

I've formed a work group to consider all of the issues including scope, privacy, data storage and cost. The group will report back to me early next year. Once I have a fully vetted, legal and well-reasoned body camera program, a funding proposal will be introduced to the City Council.

The City Council and I both agree on the need for quick action to address police misconduct, but we have to work smart to produce the best possible outcome for our constituents.

A smarter approach would be for the council to hold the current bill and collaborate with the work group to resolve the issues associated with body cameras. This would allow us to move forward together, drawing on the expertise of both bodies and ultimately producing the best product for Baltimore City residents who desperately want to see us take action. I wrote the council before last week's vote advocating this approach, but unfortunately the bill moved forward.

Should the bill in its current form make it to my desk, I will have no choice but to veto. The current legislation, while well intentioned, does not thoroughly address a myriad of concerns for the proper storage and maintenance of data gathered as a result of having a body camera program, nor does it identify a reasonable scope or estimated cost for maintaining a program. Most importantly, it does not address how to protect the privacy of city residents when they encounter a police officer wearing a body camera. These are important issues that need to be discussed and debated before a program is implemented.

I understand that the City Council was elected to do a job, but as the chief executive of Baltimore City, I also have a job to do. I have to make sure the work gets done to protect the privacy of our citizens and that proper steps have been taken to implement public policy in an effective manner.

No responsible executive would commit their government or company to spending several million dollars on a project as large and complex as police body cameras without making sure they got the basics right. I believe it would be a mistake to do so here.

I prefer to work in a thoughtful, deliberate and careful manner.

Almost a year ago, I stood with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and announced the police department's "Strategic Plan for Improvement," which among other recommendations called for body cameras. In the months since, Commissioner Batts has been working to make sure Baltimore doesn't fall into the same traps other jurisdictions have when they acted hastily.

This is something he has seen first-hand, and Baltimore is lucky to have his experience to draw from as we move forward with our own program.

Police body cameras have the potential to dramatically transform the way policing is done in Baltimore City for the better.

We are going to have police body cameras in Baltimore City, but I will never give up on fighting for us to do it the right way.

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The stakes are too high and the lives impacted too valuable to have it any other way.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of the City of Baltimore; her email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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