On August 23rd, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced plans to use $1.6 million in federal funds to finally implement the Howard County Police Department's body-worn camera program. If the County Council approves his budget amendment, it will help to cover the cost of around 600 body cameras and 26 essential personnel.
The funding will also help to ensure Howard County is fully compliant with the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. This legislation states that law enforcement agencies must provide every police officer that regularly interacts with the public with a body-worn camera by July 1st, 2023. So, yes, by 2023, Elon Musk will be popping bottles on the surface of Mars, and Sir Richard Branson will be providing scantily clad commercial flights to the moon, and police interactions, in one of the most wealthy counties on planet Earth, may be audibly and visually recorded.
Of course, investing in body-worn cameras isn't just about complying with state law. It is also about paving the way for the most accurate account of a police interaction to be available. Currently, Howard County Police rely solely upon the human memory to recount events when it is statistically proven that the human memory is fallible – especially under stress.
A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Council on Criminal Justice's Task Force on Policing found the wearing of body cams reduced the use of force by police (during both fatal and non-fatal encounters) by almost 10 percent. Just as important, body cameras decreased the number of complaints made against law enforcement officers by about 17 percent as the fallibility of the human mind clearly goes both ways.
A similar study, published by Justin Ready and Jacob Young from Arizona State University, found that police officers who used body-worn cameras were more cautious and courteous when speaking to private citizens. While it was not included in the study, it would stand to reason that citizens on-camera would be equally incentivized to be respectful – a win/win.
In some cases, the use of body cams can even lead to the prosecution of rogue police officers. A 2016 survey by George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy found that around 8.3 percent of district attorneys had used camera footage for this purpose.
Will the rollout of the body-worn camera program in Howard County bring similar benefits? Only time will tell, but it is quite noteworthy that Howard County has made it to 2021, in this climate, without this commonplace technology. Just about every human on the planet is walking around with a high-definition camera in their pocket, including law enforcement. Still, police interactions, at current, remain recorded only by an officer's memory and notes. Strange, to say the least.As always, if you find yourself in trouble with the law (recorded or not), you can rely on the knowledgeable attorneys at Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake to help you stand up for your rights. To set up a free consultation with a member of our team, all you need to do is give us a call at (410) 927-5137. We're available 24/7!