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Mayor says she will veto body camera bill

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she will veto a City Council bill requiring police officers to wear body cameras if the legislation makes it to her desk before policy questions have been resolved.

"I would rather be thoughtful and right than fast and wrong," Rawlings-Blake said. "The worst thing we can do ... is to roll out a program that hasn't been thought through, and unfortunately we are dangerously close to doing that now."

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Rawlings-Blake's comments come after the council's public safety committee approved the proposal during a contentious hearing Tuesday, sending the bill to the full council for a vote Nov. 10. The bill would require all officers to wear the cameras within a year.

The council can override a veto by Rawlings-Blake — who has issued only one during her tenure — if three-fourths of the members agree.

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Rawlings-Blake said she wants to wait for the task force she appointed about two weeks ago to finish evaluating issues surrounding body cameras, including what interactions with the public should be recorded. The mayor didn't set a date for when she wants police to start wearing the devices, but she gave the task force three months to complete its work.

"I am 100 percent in support of police body cameras," the mayor said. "And residents should know that no matter what happens during the City Council process, the city is going to have body cameras."

The city law department has challenged the council's authority to require officers to wear the cameras, saying the legislation violates the city charter's ban on lawmaker interference with the police commissioner's power.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has asked the Maryland attorney general's office to review whether council has the legal authority to require the cameras.

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Young and Councilman Warren Branch filed the bill in September after video footage surfaced that showed a police officer punching a man at a North Avenue bus stop.

Lester Davis, Young's spokesman, said the council president was open to amending the legislation and wanted to continue a dialogue with the mayor.

Davis said Young also was open to adding "common-sense measures" into the legislation, including the possibility of launching a body camera program as a pilot focused on a part of the city that's produced the most complaints against police officers.

A body camera program is projected to cost $5 million in the first year, including the cost of purchasing the devices.

Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts released their plan this month to address police brutality. It proposes increasing staff in the internal affairs division, which handles allegations of misconduct, and studying the body camera issue. Batts also wants to negotiate with the police union to get wider authority to quickly punish rogue officers.

It was presented after The Baltimore Sun reported the city has paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police misconduct since 2011.

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