By: Matt Bush
Police chiefs across Maryland warn that body cameras on officers will not be effective until a change is made in state law, and now a bill making that change has cleared the House of Delegates.
Maryland's wiretapping law currently requires two-party consent to record audio. So in the case of an officer wearing a body camera, the officer would have to ask anyone they approach if it's okay to record them. If that person says no, then there's only video.
Baltimore County Delegate Charles Sydnor says video paints an incomplete portrait by itself, pointing to the recording of Eric Garner, who repeatedly cried out "I can't breathe" while dying at the hands of officers in New York City.
"Roll that in your mind without audio. With the audio, you heard him saying a number of things. Without the audio, you had no idea of what was going on. You saw a man just waving his arms, looking as if he was agitated. But when you add the audio, things became a lot more clear," he says.
Sydnor is the sponsor of a bill that exempts body camera footage from uniformed police officers from the state wiretapping law. He believes it will satisfy both citizen desire to see officers fitted with body cameras, and concerns from police chiefs.
"You have a number of law enforcement agencies that did not want to move forward with a body camera program until they were assured their officers were not going to be either sued civilly or prosecuted criminally," he says.
The measure has cleared the House and now moves to the Senate. If it passes and is signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland will join D.C. in expanding the use of body cameras on police officers.