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Anne Arundel County Police Have Begun Wearing Body Cameras

The county has started requiring its police officers to wear a body camera after launching training courses that began in early July. They expect all officers to finish by October.

(TNS) — Officers turned in their guns before entering the classroom Monday to begin body-worn camera training at the Anne Arundel County, Md., Police Training Academy in Davidsonville.

It was one of several classes that have been scheduled weekly since the beginning of July. There are about 25 officers in each class that are expected to cycle through until they all have taken it by October.

The officers were given two cameras each, to ensure there is backup in case one of the batteries dies and were advised to never let the battery get below 20 percent. They were then walked through all the functions of the cameras from powering on and off and turning on "ready mode," which they are required to leave the cameras in while on duty.

Sgt. Todd Betz, academy instructor, began his class by debunking rumors officers have heard about the cameras such as their ability to turn on by themselves.

"When we draw our firearm, our camera in ready mode will start recording. When we arm our taser, our camera will start recording and when we turn our lights on, our camera will automatically start recording," Betz said. "I think there were some rumors swirling that there were other ways that the cameras would self turn on, that they weren't really sure about."

The Axon Body 3 camera is water-resistant and is equipped with 12 hours of battery life, four speakers, GPS and an LED screen at the top.

The officers have begun wearing and using the body-worn cameras, starting after each has completed their training.

County Executive Steuart Pittman said the decision to roll out this program came after young people in the county took action and wrote in to County Council about their concerns around the abuse of power by police officers.

"I got hundreds of emails as did everybody on the County Council from young people who mobilized around this issue and wrote personal stories about why they felt it was important to have body worn cameras on officers, and found that the officers are enthusiastic about it as well," Pittman said during an update when the rollout began.

Police brutality is not a new topic of discussion but has gained traction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last year. Protestors have called for a reevaluation of policing practices and police reform resulting in the adoption of new practices by police departments across the country.

Video taken by a teenager who was present during Floyd's arrest shows former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for over nine minutes. President Biden hailed the teenager as a hero for thinking quickly and recording the encounter. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of Floyd.

"The technology has really been refined in the last 10 years but there's certainly been agencies that have been using some kind of camera system for the better part of the last 20 years, whether it's in-car cameras or body cameras," Betz said. "I think we're a little late getting this technology and I'm glad we have this technology."

Betz said using cameras is a good move for the department because it will allow for more transparency to the public and in court when recounting encounters involving police.

"Not only to give our perspective on calls, but it documents the whole call, you're documenting evidence, you're documenting statements that may be made, you're documenting the whole incident so it benefits everyone all around," Betz said.

Body-worn cameras are now mandated by seven states; Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Carolina.

The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 was introduced in the General Assembly this year, requiring all public-facing officers to use body worn cameras by 2025. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the package but the House of Delegates voted to override the veto with a 95-42 vote.

Police Capt. Herbert Hasenpusch said every sworn officer, or officer with the authority to make arrests, will carry the body worn camera. SWAT team officers will also use a helmet mounted camera due to being in a "unique situation."

The cameras will allow supervisors to review documentation, review video recordings and provide feedback to officers.

"It's going to build trust, there's no question about that, between the community and police," Pittman said. "It's going to make it easier to handle accurately and fairly some of the complaints that are filed with the police department about police conduct."

(c)2021 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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