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Body cameras becoming a reality for county police

bodycamUPPER MARLBORO – After more than a year of investigating, deciding what procedures work and which system would be best for them, the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) has finally decided on using Panasonic body cameras to host their pilot program.

Police Chief Mark Magaw said this is a policy the PGPD has been looking into since last January and hopes it is something they can implement and continue to grow with.

“This is a program I think we need to eventually grow into,” Magaw said. “The policy is still being written, but we’ve had the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) involved in it, the NAACP involved in it, and community members involved in it.”

The program, which will begin in March, Magaw said, would cost the police department $140,815 for hardware, storage and software and extra services including licensing costs, licensing packs and field service teams.

The department will keep an extra $10,000 in pocket for any extra services needed for the cameras, said Alan Lee, the information technology manager for the police department. The funding for the pilot program will come from Governor Larry Hogan’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The department does not know if they want to commit to a maintenance agreement with Panasonic for their specific model of cameras, he said, because of how fast the body camera technology evolves.

“From a hardware perspective, the cameras change just as fast as cell phones,” Lee said. “In many ways, that’s a good thing. They’re becoming smaller and lighter and allow you to store more data.”

If they do not commit to a long term maintenance deal, Lee said, they will look into purchasing more individual cameras to replace those that break in the short term.

Along with the pilot program, the police department will partner with the University of Maryland’s (UMD) sociology department to study how effective the program is, as well as gauge citizen approval of camera operations, said Carlos Acosta, a member of the governor’s commission on implementation and use of body cameras.

“What we’re looking at, how does this change behavior on both sides of the camera,” he said. “There are two things that we’re looking at. Accountability and transparency. We’ve told officers we’re holding them accountable for their behavior. When they can’t, that’s when we’re going to have issues.”

Acosta said the PGPD, as well as other police departments across the nation, are looking at two issues when talking about implementing body cameras: Costs and privacy. The study with the sociology department at UMD will help the police department figure some of these things out, he said.

The UMD campus police have already implemented a body camera program of their own. The Laurel police department also has body cameras, but their system would not be as large as the PGPD’s.

Conucilwoman Mary Lehman said it is good to see the police joining forces with Maryland’s sociology department to gauge how effective the cameras are, as well as monitor how some of their policies within the pilot program are working.

Lehman said she is interested in knowing more about the period of the pilot program and how much information they could find out about the program throughout the initial pilot study.

The pilot program is scheduled to continue for six months, Acosta said, but more time can be added if more information is needed.

Lehman also wanted to know how much the Panasonic cameras cost in relation to the other brands being considered. Lee said the cameras were around $900 per device, which ranked among the highest they considered. Lehman said that is a good sign.

“If you said it was the cheapest one, exactly what you said, you get what you paid for,” Lehman said. “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

The department has backup choices, Lee said, but they do not anticipate any shortcomings with the Panasonic cameras.

They will need to hire three more staff members to the two they already have that oversee the operations and storage of the Panasonic dashboard cameras the PGPD has. Those five staff members will oversee the body camera operations as well, Lee said.

There also needs to be some more public education on the body cameras, Lehman said, before the program starts.

Acosta said the department of sociology has already approached the department about the public education aspect of the body cameras and they are prepared to move forward on it.

“That was something that didn’t even occur to me until they approached me,” Acosta said.

Councilwoman Deni Taveras said she is concerned about storage and how much space can be used before needing to purchase more. The department will have 60 terabytes of storage room on the Microsoft Azure cloud, but Taveras said with as big as the police department is, that space will fill quickly if every interaction is recorded.

“We can really hit 60 terabytes fairly quickly if we’re recording every single incident,” Taveras said.

Lee said the department is looking into that, but they need to record a fairly large amount of data because officers cannot predict how incidents will turn out.

Councilman Todd Turner said finding a balance between what the department needs and what the county can afford is going to be essential once the pilot is over. The March date for the pilot is perfect, because of how close to budget discussions it is.

 “One on hand, we need to do this for transparency. It’s a tool. It doesn’t mean it will be a perfect tool, but it is a tool to help the officers as well as the community,” Turner said.  “On the other hand, we know what the budget situation is.”

Overall, Turner said, this is a good thing. And the department will have data to look at to determine what the best practices are. They will be able to find the right balance because of that.

Last modified onWednesday, 04 November 2015 20:49
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