Official: Baltimore County Police Should Release More Body Camera Footage

Citing the need to uphold their “transparency push,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said the county’s police department should be releasing body-worn camera footage “more frequently.”

The Baltimore Sun
A Baltimore County police officer wears a body camera in this 2016 photo. County Executive Johnny Olszewski said Tuesday that the department should release body camera footage more quickly.
A Baltimore County police officer wears a body camera in this 2016 photo. County Executive Johnny Olszewski said Tuesday that the department should release body camera footage more quickly.
Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun/TNS

BALTIMORE -- Citing the need to uphold their “transparency push,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said the county’s police department should be releasing body-worn camera footage “more frequently.”

“There is no written policy” currently in place to dictate when the county would make public the body-camera footage obtained from officers on duty, Olszewski, a Democrat, said Tuesday in a meeting with The Baltimore Sun editorial board. He said County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt has been asked to develop a policy.

“As part of our transparency push, I believe that the police department should be releasing more footage and more frequently,” Olszewski said.

County efforts to evaluate its body-worn camera policies come amid the ongoing debate over the public’s right to view footage that could later be used in court. Olszewski’s comments, while not directly related, also come after an officer fatally shot a Parkton man during a Nov. 26 traffic stop. The officer was placed on administrative leave while the department reviews the incident.

Hyatt previously mentioned the policy efforts to The Sun in September, adding the footage falls under the umbrella of data that the public is “entitled to have.”

“A lot of these things are elements that — whether it’s the police department or the county — [haven’t been] shared as openly in the past and we’re really looking forward to moving in a new direction with that,” Hyatt said in September.

Hyatt is in the progress of trying to finalize that policy, Olszewski said. A draft of that policy is currently being reviewed by the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 before it’s finalized, said David Rose, second vice president for the union.

A hard deadline for the release of that policy hasn’t been set yet. In addition to getting the FOP’s feedback, Olszewski’s administration and the police department are also working with the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office to develop the policy.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said they want to balance the interests of “the public to know and see” body camera footage with the interests of “potential criminal defendants.” His “overriding concern” is to ensure they’re protecting the rights of a defendant to a fair jury trial, he said.

“I’m always concerned that early and premature releasing of body camera videos could potentially taint a jury pool and I very much would like to obviously avoid that because I think that’s really important [for] whoever the defendant happens to be,” he said.

Shellenberger said he’s “hopeful” they’ll reach an agreement sometime in the near future so people can see the actual written policy once it’s released.

The police department Tuesday didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the policy or whether they would release footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting from November.

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