MCPD Officers Begin Wearing Body Cameras While on Duty

By Nathan Deychman and Lauren Roseman

Police officers working in Montgomery County, including the School Resource Officers (SRO), have begun wearing body cameras while responding to incidents in order to enhance safety and allow for more extensive evidence.

This Body Worn Camera Technology (BWCT) Pilot Program has already been carried out at Northwest, Seneca Valley and Whitman High Schools, and a plan is in place for the program to spread to all MCPS high schools by the summer of 2017. In the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), 149 officers currently wear the body cameras.

According to CHS SRO Amy Homrock, the body cameras will help clarify what actually happens during incidents.

“It will help in investigations,” Homrock said.  “If there is any question about what took place during an incident, you can go back and review the tapes to see what transpired.”

On the other hand, the implementation of this program raises several questions, especially regarding confidentiality.

“It’s a way to keep our school safer, but it also takes away some of students’ privacy,” sophomore Leon Bi said.

However, according to Homrock, the cameras will only be on during incidents and the students involved will be notified when the cameras are being used.

“When I get my camera, I will have to tell the person or persons I’m with that they are being recorded,” Homrock said.

According to the MCPD’s regulation on the BWCT, the cameras are prohibited from being used in strip searches, locker rooms and/or restrooms unless it is part of a criminal investigation. Officers are also prohibited from secretly recording public conversations with people or other officers.

“The expectation is that these rules will apply to all officers and all locations, with some obvious exceptions,” said Robert Hellmuth, MCPS’s Director of the Department of School Safety and Security.

“Basically the program calls for the officers to turn on their body cameras whenever they are involved in law enforcement activities and turn them off when the activities have concluded. They will not have the cameras on all of the time.”

The implementation of the BWCT program can primarily be tied back to the issue of police brutality and the lack of evidence in many of those cases.

According to a Nov. 7 The Atlantic article, an experiment in California found that police officers not wearing cameras were twice as likely to use force compared to ones wearing the cameras.  The study also found that complaints against the police decreased 80 percent when officers wore the cameras.

It is unclear when the program will come to CHS. The program’s spread will be slow due to the immense cost of $2.6 million in providing and maintaining the cameras for the entire MCPD.

“If there are any kinks in the program, hopefully they would be worked out before the program comes to CHS,” Principal Joan Benz said.