Baltimore Police Start Wearing Body Cameras (UPDATE: City Releases Camera Policy)

"You can't claim to be transparent and then say those orders are a secret. It's beyond ridiculous."


[Update, 11:24 a.m.: Score one for transparency: The city has reversed itself and made its policy public. The Baltimore Sun has published the document here. Original post below.]

Body cameras have come to the Baltimore Police Department, with 155 officers donning the devices this week. This is a pilot program, aimed at allowing the city to decide which of three different camera vendors it should buy from; the rest of the department is scheduled to start following suit next year.

The new policy has been promoted as a way to make the police more transparent. But the city isn't being very transparent about how exactly the cameras will be used. The Baltimore Sun reports:

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[T]he department declined to release the "draft policy" it developed to govern how and when officers use their cameras, how officers can respond to citizen requests not to be filmed, how the department plans to use the footage, and who will have access to the recordings. Those issues have been debated nationally and raise thorny legal questions, including around citizens' privacy concerns.

"We are working from a draft right now because we want to fine-tune that policy to make sure that, as we experience this pilot program, we're going to learn and the community is going to learn," said Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere. "We will be transparent moving forward and we will answer the community's questions in regards to what the policy suggests that we do at this point."

David Rocah of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, a member of the mayor's body camera task force and the state's body camera commission, called the Police Department's decision not to publish its policy "incomprehensible and utterly unacceptable."

The state commission specifically called for policies to be public in its recommendations to state legislators, and members of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's task force "assumed and we specifically discussed that the policies would be public," Rocah said….

Residents who fear that officers' body cameras will "only be on when officers want them to be on and they won't be on when officers are engaged in misconduct" should be able to look to the department's policy for assurances that officers are being held accountable, Rocah said.

Rocah's bottom line: "You can't claim to be transparent and then say those orders are a secret. It's beyond ridiculous." To read the rest, go here.