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Bill would bar public access to some body cam footage

 Policeman with body-worn videocamera (body-cam)
Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson
Policeman with body-worn videocamera (body-cam)

A bill that would alter how police body camera footage can be viewed by the public is nearing passage in the Maryland Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Baltimore County Democrat Sen. Charles Sydnor, would prevent the public from viewing tape that depicts a victim of domestic violence, rape, or sexual assault, or depicts the death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.

Sydnor recalled during a hearing on the bill in January how upset he was as a child to hear a recording of the death of his uncle, a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.

During that hearing, Lisae Jordan, an attorney with the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testified in favor of the bill saying it would do a great deal of good for survivors of sex crimes and other abuse. She said survivors of sexual assault rarely reach out to law enforcement in the first place, but they would feel even less safe knowing body camera footage would be available to the public.

“Imagine the case where someone does reach out to law enforcement, and the survivor— perhaps bloody, bruised, perhaps partially clothed, and definitely traumatized— and all of that is captured on the body camera footage,” Jordan said.

This bill passed the Senate last session, but did not make it through the House of Delegates.

Last year, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021, which will require all police officers in the state to be fitted with body cameras by 2025.

Callan Tansill-Suddath is a State House Reporter for WYPR, where she covers the General Assembly.