Taser cameras delayed for Baltimore County police

Plans to put cameras on Baltimore County police Tasers have been delayed as officials study legal issues surrounding the devices.

In December, Police Chief Jim Johnson said a pilot program using battery-operated cameras on Tasers would start within 30 days. But since then, questions about the legality of recording audio of people’s interactions with police have led the department to delay the launch, police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.

Maryland is a “two-party consent state,” in which both parties need to agree before audio communication can be recorded, Armacost said. Officials are seeking clarification on how that would affect officers’ ability to use the Taser cameras, which record both video and audio.

At a meeting in Annapolis last week, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told state lawmakers from the county that he would seek a bill to authorize police to record audio when using Taser cameras.

Armacost said the county had already ordered the cameras, but canceled delivery because of the legal questions.

“We cannot begin a program until we resolve that issue,” she said. “We did not want to take possession of cameras with audio.”

The Taser camera program will likely be ready in the spring, officials said. Once the legal issues are resolved, the department will need to develop operating procedures and train officers to use them, Armacost said. Officials have said it will cost about $108,000 to equip the department’s 54 Tasers with cameras.

One police union leader said the delay in the Taser camera program was not a surprise.

“It’s not as easy as, ‘Here’s a camera on a Taser, turn it on and let it go,’ ” said David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4. “There’s a whole lot of implications. … You want to try to get it right the first time as much as you can.”

Rose said the union is waiting to see the department policy on Taser cameras, and has not yet taken an official stance on them.

The department has faced criticism in the past from people who have alleged that officers inappropriately used Tasers.

The county also is considering outfitting police officers with body cameras. As part of the Taser camera announcement in December, Kamenetz said he had directed Johnson to lead a 90-day study of whether the department should have officers wear body cameras.

That group has been meeting weekly and is exploring a number of topics, such as privacy and data storage, Armacost said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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