ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A rare state Senate hearing was held Wednesday outside of session and addressed several police accountability bills.
Among the police reform proposals senators debated Wednesday were bills to increase public access to body-worn camera video and penalties for officers who don’t record.
“There is enough anecdotal evidence which demonstrates that law enforcement unless required to do so, will withhold this body cam footage,” Senator Charles Sydnor said.
Opponents said there are some circumstances officers simply forget.
“An officer may be so focused on suppressing the crime or rescue or protection efforts, they may forget to turn on their camera,” Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said.
“Accidents happen. I think officers have a right to accidentally not have hit the ‘start’ feature,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.
“Just because an officer didn’t hit record doesn’t mean an event didn’t happen,” Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson said.
But public defenders point to multiple occasions on which they said officers manipulate video.
“I’ve had cases in which officers are verbally, as well as giving hand signals to each other to mute their body camera,” Public Defender Stanford Fraser said.
“There should be consequences for not activating as a means to encourage compliance, bolster accountability and potentially augment crime clearing,” Andrea Headley, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, said.
Also debated Wednesday was a bill that would lift limits for claims, currently capped at $400,000, which some senators say will attract frivolous lawsuits.
“A lawyer’s going to figure out what it’s going to cost to fight it out, (what the) potential loss is, what the settlement cost is,” Sen. Michael Hough, a Republican representing Carroll and Frederick counties, said.
“Those who are concerned about the cost of action must consider the cost of lives and injustice of inaction,” attorney Cary Hansel said.
Another bill debated involves giving investigative authority in police brutality cases to the state prosecutor’s office, which several local prosecutors testified against.