UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Police Department confirmed Monday they are looking into developing a pilot program for placing body cameras on police officers. The department began investigating various manufacturers of body camera equipment in January, said Lt. Bill Alexander, a spokesman for the PGPD, and the department anticipates implementing a pilot program […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Police Department confirmed Monday they are looking into developing a pilot program for placing body cameras on police officers.
The department began investigating various manufacturers of body camera equipment in January, said Lt. Bill Alexander, a spokesman for the PGPD, and the department anticipates implementing a pilot program in early 2015.
“Over the past 12 months, our Training Academy has worked in coordination with our Office of Information Technology, our Inspector General, as well as with members of our community and special interest groups,” Alexander said. “We are being deliberately thoughtful about this important decision that we believe will only strengthen our relationship with our citizens, further enhance our dedication to transparency and keep safe our officers and the citizens we are sworn to protect and serve.”
Scott Peterson, deputy manager of communications and press secretary for County Executive Rushern Baker III, said the police department formed a panel of stakeholders which includes citizens, special interest groups and allied partners who are researching the type of equipment, the cost, data capacity, and the best practices used by other law enforcement agencies around the country.
“As much as we are researching and investing in technology, PGPD remains committed to community policing and we are proud of their success over the past four years,” Peterson said. “Our police department is an integral part of County Executive Baker’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative and our officers are interacting with people in neighborhoods throughout the county more than ever before. They understand that it is essential to build trust in the communities they protect and serve.”
County Council Chairman Mel Franklin said he is glad the police are considering a pilot program, and he thinks it shows how progressive the police department is.
“It is important to test out to see if it is viable for all of our officers who are on the street,” Franklin said. “I think it is a good thing that they are moving forward and testing it.”
Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin C. High lauded the county police for their decision. Depending on how the pilot program works, High said he would be open to putting cameras on sheriff’s department deputies as well.
“The exploration of technology is a good thing. I think we would certainly look to learn from their experience what they find out in terms of best way to implement it and how to move the issue forward. I applaud them on their willingness to step forward and do a study,” High said. “I think we are certainly in the arena of using best ideas and best practices. We want to look and see what they have to say. It is probably something we would follow onto.”
John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, said cameras will provide more evidence for the office to use when prosecuting cases and will make it easier to determine what charges need to be filed against individuals, if any at all.
“Anything that helps protect both the officers and the citizens, we support,” Erzen said. “You won’t have ‘the officer said this happened and the citizen said this happened’. The camera and the video will show you exactly what happened.”
While cameras will not change the way the office operates, Erzen said, they will help prosecutors better understand what happened at an incident.
“We would still investigate anything like we always have,” Erzen said. “The camera is not a shortcut in any way. It is simply a further piece of evidence that helps you gain a better understanding of any incident you are investigating.”
Dean Jones, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said the union supports implementing a pilot program.
“We’ve got nothing to hide,” Jones said. “There is no fear of body cameras.”
However, Jones said there are certain issues the department must figure out before it begins using cameras, such as where to place them on officers and what may be recorded.
Jones said the cameras need to be mounted on officers’ heads so that a person reviewing the footage can see everything the officer sees. Typically, Jones said, body cameras are placed on the chest of an officer, but the view may become obstructed, such as when an officer is holding a gun in front of their body.
“When you’re holding a long gun, you have to hold it in a tucked position,” Jones said. “The barrel comes right across his body camera. So the average person looking at that thinks that we are trying to cover up the vision of the body camera.”
Also, Jones said sometimes officers find victims in a state they should not be viewed in, such as victims of abuse and people injured in car accidents. He said there should be a policy in place to protect victims.
“Do we really want that out there? I don’t know, but you can make a FOIA request and get that information,” Jones said. “There is a big conversation that needs to be had that is not being had. The victim has rights too.”
Jones also said it will cost a lot of money to store the footage from the cameras. For a small police department, such as Laurel, he said it does not cost as much but for the county police department the cost will substantially increase.
Currently, the Laurel Police Department uses cameras. The Montgomery County Sentinel reported Montgomery County will also implement a pilot program in 2015.
James Brooks, deputy chief for the Laurel police, said since the city’s department began using body cameras two years ago, use of force by officers has decreased by 30 percent.
“Whenever officers can use less force to affect an arrest, that is a win-win,” Brooks said. “The fact that we’re actually attempting to be somewhat transparent with the public, as well, is what this is about.”
Laurel officers wear their cameras on sunglasses or on a headband, Brooks said. In addition, officers are allowed to record in public settings without permission, but are not allowed to record in the privacy of someone’s home without permission from the owner of the home.
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP, said the organization supports the use of body cameras by the county police. He said he is in the process of sending a letter to Baker asking to get the program up and running as soon as possible.
“One of the reasons Laurel was one of the first police departments to have body cameras was because we worked with them to help resolve some of the issues they had,” Ross said. “Prince George’s County is supposed to go into a pilot program in January, but we are going to ask them to step it up as soon as possible.”
David Rocah, an attorney from the ACLU of Maryland, said PGPD and any other police department would benefit from using body cameras because implementation would go a long way in helping police departments across the nation regain the trust of the public. Using cameras, Rocah said, would absolve officers of any wrongs they are accused of if they do their jobs in the correct way.
“I honestly don’t see how anyone could argue to the contrary,” Rocah said. “Body cameras are an incredibly important police accountability and transparency tool and also have a very positive effect on how both police and the residents they interact with behave.
Cameras will not help solve all problems overnight, Rocah said, but they represent a step in the right direction.
“Given that police kill probably over 1,000 people a year in this country, including at least 30 people here in Maryland in 2013, I think cameras inevitably will shed a lot more light on what police are doing and how they are doing it,” Rocah said.
After a grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri chose not to indict a police officer who killed a black teenager, causing protests around the country, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to provide federal funding for putting body cameras on police officers. Rocah said he hopes the initiative will help alleviate police departments’ cost concerns.