BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Baltimore City’s body camera program is getting national scrutiny after embarrassing allegations police may have planted evidence. It’s prompting a closer look at the rules officers must follow: when should those cameras be on and when is it OK to turn them off?
Officers in two incidents are under investigation for appearing to plant evidence or at the very least not following procedure by inexplicably turning those cameras off before making a bust.
Public safety expert Rob Weinhold of Fallston Group said even if the officers did nothing criminal, the damage has been done.
“Whether it’s real or perceived, trust is an extremely important issue, these types of incidents erode public trust,” Weinhold said.
A woman said the same officer under fire in the first questionable video also arrested her brother.
“If they feel as though they want a certain person out here on the streets, they’re going to do whatever they need to do to put that person in jail, whether it’s plant drugs on them, whatever the case may be,” she said.
WJZ reviewed department policy, which mandates recording unless it’s unsafe, impossible or impractical.
One of the rare times officers are permitted to turn cameras off is if the safety of an informant or undercover officer is at risk and the cameras are supposed to stay on until an encounter has fully concluded.
Police commissioner Kevin Davis put out a memo this week mandating officers record an explanation if they turn their cameras off during an encounter.
“You’ve got to leave your camera on. If the camera goes off and goes back on, it raises doubts,” he said.
Despite high-profile scandals, he believes the department is better with cameras and Weinhold agreed.
“The good news is, a lot of these issues are coming to light so there’s awareness and there’s true accountability from the top down in the police department,” Weinhold said.
The commissioner has said he believes drugs were legitimately found in both of the busts and another in Southeast Baltimore, although he said those officers filed no reports at the time explaining why their cameras were turned off.
Since the body camera program started last year, police have sustained 14 administrative misconduct cases against officers based on the video footage.