Mayor pledges police body cameras by year's end

As a mayoral task force prepares to release recommendations about police body cameras, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is pledging to launch a program in Baltimore by year's end.

"We will have a body camera program — at least a pilot program — in place this year," Rawlings-Blake said in an interview. She did not say how large a pilot would be, but noted that in other places, "most larger jurisdictions tested a pilot program first."

Equipping police with body cameras has been an issue of contention between Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Last year, Young championed legislation to require all of the city's nearly 3,000 police officers to wear body cameras as part of an effort to end police brutality. Rawlings-Blake vetoed the bill, opting for a mayoral task force to study privacy issues and cost before purchasing cameras. She has argued that many practical issues have to be resolved before cameras are used, such as when officers might be expected to turn them off and how to store the footage.

City Councilman Warren Branch, the lead sponsor of council bill, said residents of his district repeatedly asked him to have police wear the cameras to cut down on brutality. He has cited questions surrounding the 2013 in-custody death of Tyrone West and a 2014 video showing an officer repeatedly punching a suspect, among other cases, as reasons for the proposed law.

The mayoral task force studying the issue is to release its recommendations Wednesday evening. The mayor said she will be getting a "full briefing" on the recommendations at the same time the public does. She said members of the audience will be able to ask questions and make comments.

The 16-member task force has been meeting since last year. Its co-chairmen are the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, the pastor at Empowerment Temple, and attorney James R. Benjamin Jr. Neither could be reached for comment Monday.

In 2013, a $285,000 consultant's report to the Police Department recommended that Commissioner Anthony W. Batts begin a body-worn camera trial here. Such a trial in Rialto, Calif., found that use of the cameras "drastically reduced" officers' use of force and complaints against police, according to the report.

The mayoral task force meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Empowerment Temple AME Church, 4217 Primrose Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. The public is invited to attend.