Lawmakers in Baltimore County last night delayed a talk on a proposal calling for stricter rules across Maryland for public access to police body camera footage.
Evidently, it didn’t happen because State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger couldn’t make it to the meeting, according to WBAL. Shellenberger had planned to give his support for the resolution.
Republican Councilmen Todd Crandell of Dundalk and Wade Kach of Cockeysville introduced the proposal last week. If approved by the council, it would pressure state lawmakers to tighten the rules by which members of the public and request police body camera footage through the Maryland Public Information Act.
A note on the council’s website says discussion has been “deferred to a later date.” The final vote was supposed to happen next Monday, but that’s also been delayed.
Police officials in Baltimore City and Baltimore County have touted the devices as a way to increase public transparency. However, Crandell and Kach’s proposal says “while transparency is of utmost importance, there are situations and locations in which the expectation of privacy must be protected and a careful balance struck between public transparency, as it relates to policing practices, and the safeguarding of personal privacy protections for victims and innocent third parties.”
While Shellenberger, who’s entrusted with leading the county prosecutor’s office, has backed the bill, transparency advocates have sounded an alarm.
“I agree that privacy with respect to body cam footage is important,” ACLU of Maryland senior staff attorney David Rocah said on a phone call yesterday. “But it’s just simply incorrect to say that the existing state law doesn’t already require and allow police departments to consider the privacy implications in the release of body cam footage.”
Body cameras footage falls under a category of public record that lets officials decide whether or not to release in response to an MPIA request, Rocah said. Maryland law already directs police departments to factor in footage subjects’ privacy in those decisions, and they can also redact certain pieces of the footage that might sacrifice privacy. Furthermore, footage used as evidence in an ongoing court case or for a police investigation is protected from release.
“The fundamental point is that the ability to protect privacy already exists. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either misinformed or not telling the truth,” he said.
Bills to further restrict public access to body cam footage across the state have failed in the General Assembly in past years, including one just this past spring.
Baltimore County last week announced it’s finished equipping more than 1,400 officers with body cameras. Baltimore City is still implementing the devices. An array of controversial footage released this year by public defenders has called attention to alleged police misconduct in the city.