In a pilot program, started in early April of this year, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office officially implemented the use of body-worn cameras. Two deputies from each patrol squad have been outfitted with a body camera, along with every deputy in the Lexington Park COPs Unit. That brings the total number of body-worn cameras to thirteen for the agency. The funding for the cameras was secured mainly through the Department of Justice.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant has supplied $17,127 for the cameras and has been endowed for two years. A secondary mountable camera with a unit price of $300, along with $960 for accessories, which include a USB offline device, and charging bay, brings the total expense to $17,680. The balance of $733 is being paid out of the Sheriff’s Office's operating expenses.
“Since 2011, the Sheriff’s Office has utilized an in-car video system that has proven to be an effective policing tool, providing invaluable assistance in the prosecution of cases. Further, we have been able to identify driving habits of officers that have benefited from additional training, along with customer service concerns that have been improved,” says Edward Captain Willenborg, Criminal Investigations Division Commander. “The implementation of body-worn cameras is the next logical step, and will only enhance our in-car video program,” adds Sheriff Cameron.
The Sheriff’s Office selected the Arbitrator body-worn camera made by Panasonic because the in-car and body-worn cameras use the same software and share the same database. This correlation makes for a smooth transition for deputies and their supervisors. The deputy activates the camera upon response to any incident that is determined to be investigative or enforcement in nature.
Senate Bill 486, signed by Governor Larry Hogan, encourages all agencies to initiate a pilot program in Maryland. To assist in the implementation of such programs, the legislation provides a model policy written by the Maryland Police and Corrections Training Commission. The St. Mary's County Sheriff’s Office adopted that model and adapted it to fit the needs of the agency.
Sheriff Cameron says, "Before implementing the program, we researched and developed our policy and training in conjunction with the law.”
The body-worn cameras will serve many purposes, with the obvious being the collection of higher quality evidence in the prosecution of criminal cases. Previously, deputies were limited to what they could capture with the in-car video. Now, with the utilization of high definition, wide-lens, in-color body-worn cameras, they will be able to capture foot pursuits and other encounters which were not previously recorded.
The body-worn cameras will also increase the agency's ability to improve its service to the community, by using the footage to provide scenario-based training to officers, and to identify other areas which may need improvement, including communication, customer service, and police tactics.
Sheriff Cameron noted that while the body-worn cameras serve as a conduit for transparency and openness with the community, he is also aware of the criticisms. “Our goal is to try out the cameras, put them to use and then thoroughly evaluate the technology and hardware, in addition to soliciting feedback from the officers and the community.” He added, “We will continue to move forward respectfully.”
As the program progresses, the Sheriff’s Office will provide further information regarding the body-worn camera program, in addition to seeking feedback from the community.
The Sheriff’s Office selected the Panasonic Arbitrator for their body-worn camera pilot program. The program has been funded through the Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant through the Department of Justice.
St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office implements body-worn camera program, beginning in April of this year.