TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — Controversy continues over a videotaped police encounter in Towson. The confrontation shines a spotlight on a Baltimore County program that puts citizens on the beat.
Mike Hellgren takes a look into the county’s police volunteer program.
Police call the program “invaluable” and say they have reminded officers and volunteers that anyone is allowed to record officers in public doing their job.
“These ordinary citizens provide a tremendous service to us, at no cost,” Chief Jim Johnson said. “They have played an important role in our efforts to reduce crime in Baltimore County, and have been an invaluable resource for us in handling everything from precinct office work to traffic control.”
Video showing a confrontation between police and a citizen filming an arrest has placed a longstanding Baltimore County police program under scrutiny.
“Don’t open your mouth,” the officer said.
“I thought I had freedom of speech here,” Sergio Guiterrez said.
“You don’t. You’ve just lost it,” the officer said.
Police say the sergeant incorrectly telling Guiterrez he cannot record an arrest is an unpaid volunteer. A member of the auxiliary–a group started more than 70 years ago that trains civilians to assist police.
Some even have arrest powers, and some question whether they should be placed in such dangerous, chaotic situations.
Lisa Flowers was outraged by what she saw.
“If they can’t understand the rules and act like any other police officer, they shouldn’t be there,” she said.
Police say the 80 volunteer officers “…attend about 115 hours of training modeled after, though less comprehensive than, training for Baltimore County Police officers.”
While Delegate Pat McDonough believes the program has value, he says the training needs to be done right.
“The training ranks right up there with oxygen in terms of importance,” he said. “It’s always one person, who, maybe is having a bad day and does the wrong thing.”
The chief respectfully directed all further questions to his spokesperson.
“The words of and demands to cease filming by sworn personnel and citizen volunteer auxiliary officers were incorrect, inappropriate and unnecessary,” Chief Johnson said in a written statement. “They were not helpful in bringing this incident to closure. As we already have stated, all aspects of this encounter are under investigation, and all personnel will be held accountable for their actions.”
“This Department enjoys a good relationship with its citizens largely because of its longstanding commitment to treating people with respect for their rights. Our personnel will be held accountable if they fail to do that,” he continued.
The college student who shot the incident told The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Sham he agrees.
“I encourage people to record something, record anything. Because you have the right to, you have every right to,” said Sergio Gutierrez
Members of the auxiliary do go through extensive checks, including background checks, fingerprinting and a check of their credit and work histories.
Police put the auxiliary sergeant seen in the video on administrative duty while they complete their investigation.
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