Kent County News
Gov. Larry Hogan was expected to sign several law enforcement bills into law Tuesday, April 28 including a measure that allows police officers to record audio and video with a body camera or other device.
The legislation allows police officers to use a ‘body-worn digital recording device” or an “electronic control device,” such as a Taser with recording capabilities, to record oral communications with the public.
According to a report by Capital News Service reporter Nate Rabner, the legislation, sponsored by Baltimore County Del. Charles Sydnor III, a Democrat, passed the Maryland Senate 47-0 and the House of Delegates 128-8.
“Currently, police cannot record audio without the consent of the person being recorded, a legal hangup that has discouraged departments from deploying cameras on officers,” Rabner wrote. “Sydnor’s bill would exempt police body cameras from the ‘two-party consent’ rule, similar to an exemption for dashboard cameras in police cruisers.”
“I think it’s a good thing for both the police and people on the street,” Del. John Cluster Jr., R-Baltimore County, a judiciary committee member and former police officer, told CNS.
The law requires the officer to be in uniform, with badge or other police insignia prominently displayed; to be a party to the oral communication; to identify himself as a law enforcement officer, if reasonable under the circumstances, to the other parties to the oral communication; and the audio recording is part of a videotape or digital recording, according to the bill analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
The law also requires the Maryland Police Training Commission and/or the Department of State Police to establish standards for the use of recording devices.
Speaking Thursday, April 23 at an event about his first 100 days in office, Gov. Larry Hogan pledged to sign the body-camera bill. Hogan said the case of Freddie Gray, a man whose death after being placed in the custody of Baltimore police, has sparked a wave of protests, shows the need for it. He said the investigation into how Gray died is yielding only bits and pieces of video. "One small step I believe is the body cameras for police, which we will sign that bill into law," Hogan said. "Having the real evidence of exactly what happened —having everything videotaped — is a step in the right direction, something that we are going to support."
The reason the bill was necessary is that Maryland requires what is called “two-party consent” for the recording of oral communications. Under the state’s wiretapping and electronic surveillance law, a person may not record an oral communication, such as a telephone call, unless all participants have given prior consent.
That Maryland law became national news during the investigation of President Bill Clinton when a confidante of Monica Lewinsky provided recordings of phone conversations to the Whitewater independent counsel.
According to the Department of Legislative Services analysis, several local police agencies have purchased and/or deployed body cameras, including the Cambridge, Denton, Federalsburg and Hurlock police departments.
Hurlock Police Chief Les Hutton, when he announced the use of body cameras by some of his officers last year, said the Local Government Insurance Trust, which insures 142 towns and 17 counties in Maryland, had studied the camera and was promoting its use.
Hutton cited a 2012 evaluation by the Rialto (Calif.) Police Department that found citizen complaints against officers dropped 88 percent and use of force dropped 60 percent after body cameras were required.
“I fully support it,” Hutton said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for us.”
We also support the use of body cameras by uniformed police officers and applaud the Maryland General Assembly for the near-unanimous passage of the required legislation and Hogan for planning to sign the bill into law.
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