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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter9:50 amMar 16, 20160

BOE makes big award for body cameras, rollout will take two years

How effective the cameras will be in exposing police misconduct has come under question

Above: A New York City police officer models a Vie Vu body camera. (Mark Lennihan, AP file photo)

The Board of Estimates this morning awarded $11.7 million to an Arizona company to supply body-worn cameras to the Baltimore Police Department, which says it will need another two years to fully equip its officers with the miniature cameras.

Taser International was the only vendor that met the city’s minimum technical score during a pilot program involving 150 police officers last fall.

Originally, 12 companies had vied for the contract. Nine were rejected outright and two others in addition to Taser were rejected after the pilot. One of them, Brekford Corp., briefly ran the city’s currently inoperative speed camera program.

Taser International will supply body cameras for 2,500 officers in phases lasting through January 2018.

The first group of about 500 officers will start wearing body cameras while on patrol in May. The Police Department says the program has to be rolled out in phases so that officers can receive proper training on how to use the devices.

The program calls for the cameras to eventually be worn by officers on every shift in every district.

Wide Latitude to Review and Redact

According to interim policy, officers will not be required to deploy the cameras throughout their shift, but instead start recording “at the initiation of a call for service.”

Officers will be responsible for uploading the video footage at the end of their shifts and for tagging footage when reports are taken and in other circumstances, such as investigative stops or when use of force is involved.

The wide discretion given to officers has come under criticism by the ACLU of Maryland. Executive Director David Rocah said the ability of officers to review video footage before they may be subject to questioning by superiors undercuts the effectiveness of body cameras.

“If police are going to be meaningfully investigated when they may have acted improperly, then they cannot be allowed to view the footage before making statements or answering questions,” Rocah said last week.

In a related move, the city has hired a Florida company to review and redact (edit out) footage from the videos when responding to Maryland Public Information requests.

BlueSky Safeguard was awarded $200,000 for its “body camera redaction services” that, according to the Rawlings-Blake administration, would “protect privacy concerns and investigations” arising from law enforcement encounters.

The measure would also thwart efforts by plaintiff attorneys to review the full footage of any confrontation between their client and police. BlueSky’s contract was awarded last November and ends later this year, but includes four one-year renewals.

Sole Supplier of Tasers

Taser International is currently the Police Department’s sole source of Taser guns.

In late 2014, the company received $1.1 million to supply 750 Tasers, supplementing the 1,165 Tasers ordered the previous December as part of the Police Department’s objective to arm each officer with an electroshock weapon.

In May 2014, an unarmed teenager was reportedly Tasered five times by a police officer at Good Samaritan Hospital after he became disruptive.

The teenager, George V. King, went into a coma and died a week later, leading to calls by King’s family and the ACLU for a moratorium on Taser use until the department reviewed its deployment policies.

Five months later, the Board of Estimates paid $63,000 to a woman Tasered by police after she reported a home burglary.

Taser International holds the contract for the supply of the weapons through 2017.

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