A proposal in Baltimore County would push Maryland lawmakers to tighten access to policy body camera footage considered to be public record.
Councilmen Wade Kach and Todd Crandell, of North and Southeast Baltimore County, respectively, have proposed a resolution asking the state to “carefully regulate the manner and circumstances under which public access to body-camera video is allowed.” Presently, the public can request body camera footage from police through the Maryland Public Information Act.
Certain restrictions are already in place for releasing footage, such as if it’s being used as evidence in a court case or a pending investigation. But Kach and Crandell have expressed concerns in their resolution about the privacy of the people captured on film.
As they wrote in their proposal, “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.”
They introduced the bill shortly after the Baltimore County Police Department announced it’s finished deploying its body camera program, which county officials have touted as a commitment to increased transparency from police. More than 1,400 officers are now outfitted with the devices designed to capture incidents from their perspective.
The county notably sped up the rollout of the program last fall after the deaths of Korryn Gaines, fatally shot by police after a standoff in Randallstown, and Tawon Boyd, who died in the hospital following a violent arrest in Middle River. Body camera footage wasn’t available for either incident, police said.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the ACLU of Maryland both expressed disapproval of Crandell’s and Kach’s proposal in interviews and statements given to The Baltimore Sun. Crandell shot back on his Facebook page this afternoon, “Doing the right thing always meets opposition from those with an agenda. The ACLU and the County Executive are not concerned about your privacy. I am.”
ACLU of Maryland senior staff attorney David Rocah said in a phone interview with Baltimore Fishbowl that the councilmen’s idea “comes from a fundamentally flawed premise.”
“I agree that privacy with respect to body cam footage is important, 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,” he said.
State law already directs police departments to factor in footage subjects’ privacy in decision on whether to release video records. That discretion goes beyond only videos used in investigations or as evidence in court cases.
“That can be abused and has been abused, including in some very high-profile cases,” Rocah said. “But again, 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.”
If approved, the resolution would pressure Maryland legislators to reconsider restricting public access to body cam footage. A bill proposed in the 2017 session would have set statewide terms for denying public access to certain footage. It passed in the House of Delegates, but was deemed unfavorable in the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.
County council members will discuss the proposal at a work session tomorrow afternoon, according to a council agenda. They’ll then vote on it next Monday.
This story has been updated with comment from the ACLU of Maryland.