ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A 22-member state commission will ask the Maryland General Assembly to take a close look at privacy rights versus public information in the era of police body cameras.
That’s one of the preliminary recommendations by the commission, which is trying to come up with appropriate guidance for more than 120 police departments in Maryland that may equip officers with body cameras.
“Body cameras are good for Marylanders … people tend to behave better, often, when they know the camera is recording their words and their actions,” says John Fitzgerald, Chief of the Village of Chevy Chase Police Department, and a member of the commission created by the General Assembly and Governor Larry Hogan.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime proponent of police body cameras, is guardedly optimistic the panel will come up with useful recommendations.
“We think they (police worn body cameras) are a critically important police accountability and transparency tool,” says David Rocah, ACLU attorney and member of the commission.
Law enforcement members of the panel are striving to ensure that recordings of police body cameras can be used as investigative tools. And they’re asking that police officers be given discretion as to exactly when they activate the cameras.
“Limiting that discretion in meaningful ways is critically important,” Rocah says.
Other commission members voiced concern about victims’ personal privacy rights being violated in the public release of video recordings from police body cameras.
“I think that body cameras are going to cause a lot of change … when these things are released and are uploaded to YouTube I think there may be a negative pushback,” says Russell Butler, lawyer for Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center and a member of the commission.
The commission is scheduled to complete its work Sept. 30.