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Jack Young: 'I challenge the mayor to work with the council to strengthen the [body camera] bill'

Listen to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's rhetoric in opposition to a proposal by the Baltimore City Council to equip police officers with body cameras, and one might recognize the bickering and dysfunction typical of elected leaders in a certain city to our south.

How else to explain the mayor's recent comments in which she went out of her way to demean the council and publicly threaten to veto a bill that legislators and the general public overwhelmingly support?

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Speaking to a gaggle of reporters last week, the mayor called the council "not even thoughtful" in its effort to move "so fast to get something done they didn't even take the time to get it right."

On the surface, this public war of words seems juvenile and counterproductive. But upon further examination the stakes are much more serious.

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Since 2011 the City of Baltimore has paid nearly $6 million in settlements to alleged victims of police brutality. Just a few months ago, the city paid nearly $50,000 to a man who testified that a police officer hit him in the face and broke his jaw during an arrest.

Incidents like these continue to cost taxpayers millions of dollars that could be used to fund critical programs and services for Baltimore's most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps more importantly, they harm relationships between police and communities that are crucial for public safety.

A number of progressive cities require their police officers to wear body cameras, and the results are striking.

In a randomized controlled study done in 2012 by The Police Foundation, Rialto, Calif., saw an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers and a 60 percent decline in reports of use of force by police over the previous year as a result of using cameras. The data are clear: Body camera programs work to reduce complaints and help to corroborate officers' accounts to determine if force was in fact warranted.

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The mayor believes that the body camera legislation being considered by the council is illegal and imprudent. But this line of reasoning fails to hold up to scrutiny.

In early 2013, the mayor insisted this council was wrong to pursue legislation to create a local hiring program, similar to ones in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. We were told at the time that the legislation was irresponsible and illegal. But today my local hiring bill is showing signs of promise by helping qualified city residents find work.

In 2012 the mayor dismissed out of hand an effort by the council to trim less than 1 percent from the city's nearly $3 billion budget to avoid closing recreation centers and fire stations.

And in 2011 the mayor fought an attempt by the council to pass legislation that would have allowed us to direct funding to improve public school buildings.

The issue is different, but the story is the same. The City Council responds to the needs of its citizens and is met by an administration that refuses to compromise.

As the council prepares to grant final consideration to the body camera bill, the mayor has promised a veto.

Madam Mayor, we are working hard to get this right, and to date I have not received one suggestion from your administration to help improve the bill.

Speaking to a reporter recently from The Baltimore Sun, the mayor said that she was prepared to stand "alone in making sure we get this right in Baltimore."

Voters expect their leaders to work together to solve problems. Rather than veto this important legislation, I challenge the mayor to work with the council to strengthen the bill and make body cameras a reality in Baltimore.

The citizens, and the officers sworn to protect them, deserve nothing less.

Bernard C. "Jack" Young is president of the Baltimore City Council. His email is councilpresident@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: @PrezJackYoung.

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