Baltimore (US): Police are due to begin testing body worn video beginning next month, in a bid to increase public trust towards officers. The pilot program will begin in late October and last until mid-December, involve 155 officers and cost $1.4 million.
Public calls for this type of measure began in 2014, sparked by the death of Tyrone West while in police custody. This incident added to the rising number of complaints of police brutality including footage captured by a city surveillance camera of an officer pummelling a man at a bus stop.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is committed to making a difference in the lives of Baltimore residents: “we’re fighting like hell every day to make a difference in their lives”, she said. She engaged a task force calling for body worn cameras to be initially tested in high-crime areas. The 16 strong team also recommended caution in handling possible issues with privacy, through measures such as:
• Residents should be informed by officers that they are being filmed as soon as an interaction starts. They should then be able to ask the officers to turn the camera off if the encounter isn’t related to an arrest or search, but this request must be captured on video.
• Video footage should be kept for 4 years, and no private conversations with informants should be recorded. The task force additionally requests that no recordings should be uploaded to social media sites.
• They additionally request that no database be created of mug shots taken from video stills, nor that video archives be searched with the use of facial or voice recognition software.
Some regulations are yet to be decided, namely regarding how to handle interviews in hospitals, or responses to reports of sexual assault.
Three different body worn camera brands and data storage solutions have been selected and should the program prove successful body worn video will then be rolled out city-wide by July 2016, and cost in the region of £5.5 to $7.9 million to equip over 1,500 officers.
Councilman Eric Costello said: “Everyone across the board wants body cameras – the disagreement was over how to implement it. If this is the way we get there, it’s a step in the right direction.” Fellow councilman Brandon Scott, a task force member, added that Baltimore residents have “decades and generations of police mistrust” and predicts that the city police will become a model across the country: “this is just the beginning”, he said.