ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Calvin Ball was joined by Police Chief Gregory Der, State’s Attorney Richard Gibson and other local leaders today to discuss the implementation of the Body Worn Camera program which will go live today. The program was funded in County Executive’s two most recent budgets and initially includes cameras for 300 officers, 54 sheriff’s deputies, staffing and technical needs. Photos of the event can be found here.
After years of planning, it is gratifying to reach the point where we are fully implementing a program that will bring immediate benefits to our officers and our community. This camera program is a critical step toward increased transparency and accountability in Howard County.
As a member of the County Council in 2015, Ball sponsored legislation that led to the full evaluation of community policing in Howard County and included a recommendation that a law enforcement camera program be implemented. Following a pilot program that ended in 2018, implementation of the program was delayed due to barriers including storage, staffing, and funding. In 2020, County Executive Ball filed legislation to address storage needs and in 2021 he included body worn camera funding in his budget, which allowed the police department to acquire equipment, and hire and train staff for the program.
Two years ago, County Executive Ball’s budget included $2.8 million to fully implement the body worn camera program. He included $4.7 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which started last month, to continue operations.
Uniformed Howard County Police Department (HCPD) officers who regularly interact with members of the public are required to wear and operate body worn cameras (BWCs), this included Patrol, Community Outreach, School Resource Officers, Traffic Investigations, and Tactical. The FY23 approved budget provides funding, effective July 1, to purchase BWCs for remaining HCPD officers, including detectives and non-uniformed officers.
Cameras will be automatically activated every time an officer turns on emergency equipment in a patrol car, turns on a Taser, or removes a firearm from its holster. Vehicles and holsters are being equipped with sensors to ensure cameras are immediately activated in these situations. Officers will activate BWCs for legitimate law enforcement purposes only. The HCPD has compiled additional frequently asked questions about the body worn camera program online.
"This project is a reflection of the county’s commitment to the outstanding relationships of trust and transparency our police department has long-established with the community," said Police Chief Gregory Der. "It is always our goal to offer the best possible practices in law enforcement to the Howard County community. Body cameras will now be another tool to help us achieve that. We remain committed to respecting and protecting all of the people we serve."
The State’s Attorney Office has hired 15 new positions to manage the workload for cases with video footage, out of the approximately 11,000 total cases handled by the office. The office has 30 days from when the defendant has been formally advised of the charges being brought against them or from when their defense counsel enters their appearance on the defendant’s behalf to provide discovery on any information: to be used in court to prove guilt; that may show the innocence of the accused; or undermines the credibility of their witnesses.
In cases that are handled by the State’s Attorney’s Office, footage from every responding officer must be reviewed and analyzed, redacted, tagged for certain moments, compared to paper police reports, used in court, and stored for as required by law. The program costs include training for new staff members and technical needs to store and review footage.
“Our office has been working diligently, over the last eight months, to hire a new unit and conduct extensive training in preparation for the launch of the body-worn camera program,” said State’s Attorney Rich Gibson. “We hope that as we begin to employ this new technology, the public will discover that BWC’s are not only helpful in viewing law enforcement’s interaction with the public, but also serve as an invaluable tool, from an evidence perspective, in prosecuting a case and securing a conviction.”
“The Sheriff’s Office has worked hard to ensure that our deputies are trained, and the necessary equipment is ready,” said Sheriff Marcus Harris. “Body worn cameras are going to provide a level of transparency that will help build trust between law enforcement and the community.”
"The Howard County Police Supervisors Alliance recognizes the value of body worn cameras for officers, supervisors, and the public,” said Howard County Police Supervisors Alliance President Clay Davis. “This is a step that will better enable police supervisors to work effectively with the officers they oversee and with the members of our community. After years of research and planning by the HCPD, we appreciate our county leaders bringing this technology to Howard County."
“FOP Lodge 21 supports the body worn camera program and appreciates the collaborative efforts made by Chief Der and County Executive Ball in seeking the FOP’s input to make an all-inclusive program,” said FOP Lodge 21 President Jamie Flynn.