Maryland residents hoping for police accountability reform might see a change this year if a bill going through the General Assembly passes this session. The Maryland legislature has introduced a bill calling for body camera use policy and regulation, allowing for standards to be set across the state for agencies that use the cameras. Senate […]
Maryland residents hoping for police accountability reform might see a change this year if a bill going through the General Assembly passes this session.
The Maryland legislature has introduced a bill calling for body camera use policy and regulation, allowing for standards to be set across the state for agencies that use the cameras.
Senate Bill 482, sponsored by Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s County), drew almost a dozen testimonies in support and opposition in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing Thursday. The bill does not mandate the use of body-worn cameras for law enforcement officers, but suggests guidelines for those who do.
Ramirez said if passed, the bill would provide a legal framework for when and how law enforcement officers can use body cameras as the state continues to see more municipalities implement the use of the technology.
While each jurisdiction currently regulates body camera use, Ramirez said there should be a more general policy.
“I think we need to set some minimum standards as to when police officers should turn them on when they’re out,” Ramirez said at the hearing.
These standard regulations could range from notifying a driver the cameras are on while confronting people and seeking consent from others who are being recorded at a crime scene.
“There should be some minimum standards for police officers, so they know how to use them so they don’t get in trouble and so that our citizens actually feel comfortable,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said with the state’s push to bridge a gap between citizens and law enforcement officers, a bill such as his would heighten police accountability and increase public safety.
Supporters of the bill also voiced hope that it would protect citizens by not allowing the cameras to be turned on while people are “engaged in a constitutionally protected activity, including a demonstration, a protest, or an attendance at a religious function, meeting, or similar activity, unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a criminal activity is occurring,” as the bill states.
If passed, an officer would have to tell people they are being recorded when the cameras are turned on, as well as anyone at the scene of a recorded scenario. If the citizen does not wish to be recorded, the “officer must record a request to turn off the camera before the camera is turned off,” according to the bill.
Natasha Mehu testified at the hearing on behalf of the Maryland Association of Counties in support of the bill, but asked for amendments.
Mehu said she supports equipping officers with cameras and that there should be a clearly written policy in place to do so, but there is no need for a statewide policy for it.
“We appreciate that the bill attempts to establish such requirements, however, we believe that any statewide requirements should be a framework rather than a comprehensive policy,” Mehu said.
Local departments should have a say in how body cameras are worn and used, she said, as every agency operates differently and experiences different environmental factors.
A panel of law enforcement representatives also testified at the hearing, many of whom indicated they are behind a body camera regulation bill, but not this one.
Chief John Fitzgerald of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association said the bill could prohibit a police officer from recording someone engaging in constitutionally-protected activity. Turning cameras off during “critical time,” Fitzgerald said, such as fast-moving protests or demonstrations, could pose a danger to society.
“We want to protect the first amendment activity, and we need the cameras on for that activity,” Fitzgerald said. “Officers would have to choose between common sense and violating the law.”
Maj. Jason Johnson, the Prince George’s County Police Department’s commander of internal affairs, agreed, saying a bill like this could actually make law enforcement agencies reluctant to implement body cameras.
“We want to cover situations where we know conflict might exist,” he said.