ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Police Department plans to have body-worn cameras on 100 officers by the end of June, which represents a minor delay, according to Chief of Police Tom Manger.
Although it was originally a goal for May or June, Manger said assisting the situation in Baltimore along with working through policy and technology issues slightly delayed the pilot program, which has been in the works for months. The department is also still deciding what type of camera to pilot – those attached to sunglasses, the shoulder or the middle of the officers’ chests – according to Manger.
Manger briefed the County Council on Monday prior to council approval of the police department budget, which includes $622,379 to begin implementing the full-body camera program in the next fiscal year. The chief already briefed the council’s Public Safety Committee on the anticipated $95,000 cost of a pilot program for the fiscal 2015 budget.
Manger said the cameras will be an addition to the transparency and accountability of the force when there is an officer-involved shooting, which has happened most years he has been here. The Department already uses in-car cameras to record from the patrol cars.
“The fact is that at some point we will have an officer-involved shooting here and … I talk about it in the context of making sure that we respond to that the way a police department should in terms of maintaining the trust that you have with the community, being accountable, being transparent in terms of the investigation,” Manger said. “All of those are issues that police chiefs are dealing with around the country all the time. Unfortunately, we’ll have that opportunity at some point here. My hope is that we respond to it in the best way possible.”
On May 12, Governor Larry Hogan also signed into law two provisions that affect MCPD’s implementation process. One gives law enforcement officers with body-worn cameras an exception from Maryland’s wiretap law, which requires two-party consent to record audio. The second establishes the Commission Regarding the Implementation and Use of Body Cameras by Law Enforcement Officers, which will develop a policy regarding body cameras including dissemination of the footage officers gather.
Manger said MCPD may run the pilot program for longer than the originally planned 90 days since the commission’s policies are not due until Jan. 1, so the Department could pilot the cameras until that point.
The commission’s decisions on public access to the camera footage could be important in preventing “nosy neighbors” from getting recordings when they see police at a neighbor’s house. Some departments have also not been able to implement body-worn camera programs because of the prohibitive personnel and time required to redact information from videos as well, according to Manger. He said it could take about one minute to redact one second of video.
“We’ve got to find the right balance here somewhere, and I don’t have the answer. I certainly have recommendations, but for the pilot program we will continue to follow the (Maryland Public Information Act),” he said.
Manger has already heard from some officers who want to participate, he said, although he does not know if all 100 will volunteer for the pilot. He also plans to wear one to see what it is like, although he is not a patrol officer.
Many of the council members complimented the chief on the Department. Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large), chair of the Public Safety Committee, said that when he approached the chief about body cameras last year, Manger was already thinking about it. Council member Craig Rice (D-2) also gave the department “well-deserved accolades.”
County Executive Ike Leggett recommended a total of $270,702,964 for the police department. The council approved the majority of that recommendation and placed an additional $80,000 on the reconciliation list for pedestrian safety measures. The council officially votes on the budget on May 21, although it is scheduled to make all decisions by May 14.