Taping of police incidents could begin soon

Schmoke wants to equip 150 city cars with cameras

Baltimore City/county

November 04, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

With the use of soda can-sized cameras installed next to rearview mirrors, Baltimore Police might begin taping exchanges between themselves and suspected criminals as soon as this spring.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday he is moving to have 150 patrols cars equipped with video surveillance over the next several months. Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley has embraced the plan.

ID Control, based in Derry, N.H., demonstrated its surveillance camera for Schmoke yesterday outside City Hall, with equipment installed in a Ford Explorer. ID Control is one of several vendors the city will consider in purchasing camera equipment.

The mayor has been pushing for the use of the cameras since summer and stepped up his effort after the shooting of Larry Hubbard Jr. Officer Barry W. Hamilton shot Hubbard in the back of the head during an arrest attempt Oct. 7 in the 2000 block of Barclay St.

Residents, police union officials, civil libertarians and city political leaders have called for the cameras as a guard against police brutality.

"It's good for everybody, for all parties," said Col. Bert Shirey, acting police commissioner and chief of the Field Operations Bureau, as he looked into the Explorer equipped by ID Control.

The system has three major components: the camera installed inside the car, near the rearview mirror; a control panel for the camera and a small video monitor that sits in front of the dashboard; and a videocassette recorder about the size of a child's lunch box that can be installed in the back seat or trunk.

The camera has a wide angle lens and zoom capabilities, so it can capture most of what happens in front of a police cruiser. The camera's vendor said an officer would have to go out of his way to avoid being in the camera's view.

Operation of the camera would be the responsibility of the officers. If an officer did not record an incident, "the burden of proof is then on the officer -- why he didn't record it," Schmoke said.

The mayor said he wants to capture full versions of confrontations between officers and suspects, which he said he believed could be accomplished by a system such as the one demonstrated by ID Control. "This is just one of those situations where seeing is believing it," Schmoke said.

The mayor's primary focus has been to install video cameras in the cars, but ID Control said the city also could purchase wireless microphones to record verbal exchanges. Officers would approach suspects and tell them the incident would be recorded. The officer then would turn on the microphone, and the conversation would be recorded on the videotape.

"As far as evidence, you'll get plenty of evidence," said Stephen Drelick of ID Control. "It's an excellent means of protecting the town."

Drelick said the cameras have become popular among state police agencies across the country and in major cities because of disputes about how officers handle suspects.

In the incident Oct. 7, Hubbard was killed after police said he ran from a stolen car. Police said Hamilton shot Hubbard when he tried to seize another officer's gun while the two men wrestled.

Witnesses have said the partially handcuffed Hubbard was attacked by the officers and shot as he pleaded for his life.

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