Montgomery and Prince George's counties are poised to outfit hundreds of police patrol cars with video cameras in an effort to better verify allegations of police brutality and racial profiling, officials said.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose has requested $680,000 in county funding to install cameras in 108 of the Silver Spring District's patrol cars this summer. Moose chose Silver Spring, he said, because that station receives more citizen complaints than the department's other four districts.
A police spokesman could not say how many patrol cars there are in the district but said there are 152 officers, not all of whom have their own cars.
If approved by the council, Moose's total request of $1 million also would pay for Spanish-language courses for officers and increased efforts to recruit and train minority officers. Moose said he eventually plans to install cameras in all county patrol cars.
The plans are a result of a settlement reached last year between the county and the family of Junious W. Roberts, an unarmed black man fatally shot in the back by a county police officer last April. Under the settlement, the county agreed to provide an additional $1 million for the video cameras and for programs to improve the police department's relationship with the county's minority residents.
Under an agreement reached by the U.S. Justice Department and Montgomery officials last week, officers will be required to log every traffic stop made on a public highway, asking motorists their race, gender and date of birth.
While the agreement capped a nearly four-year Justice Department investigation into accusations of police brutality by Montgomery officers, the investigation found no evidence that officers engaged in excessive force. However, the investigation did find that officers issued 21 percent of traffic tickets to African American drivers, who account for roughly 13 percent of the county's population.
Prince George's police said they will equip about 100 cruisers with video cameras this summer and hope to outfit 100 more cars next year. The installment of the first batch of cameras is being financed with a $500,000 federal grant, and Police Chief John S. Farrell said his long-term plan is to have cameras--which cost about $4,500 each--in each of the department's 650 uniformed patrol cars.
Lt. Scott Dunklee, who is overseeing the Prince George's project, said that the cameras will be spread evenly among the county's six districts and that the videotapes would automatically be turned on whenever emergency lights on a cruiser are activated. But he said the officers would have to switch on the audio recorders when they leave their cars; those devices would be worn on an officer's belt.
The camera--no more than four inches long--would be mounted behind the rearview mirror, next to the passenger's visor, Dunklee said. The videocassette recorder would be in the trunk and could capture up to eight hours of footage, he said.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has endorsed the use of cameras in patrol cars, and criminal justice experts said this week that in the past decade, more departments have begun using them in an effort to bolster police accountability.
A recent Justice Department survey found that 73 percent of state law enforcement agencies use video cameras in patrol cars, compared with 53 percent of county and 41 percent of municipal police departments.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties would become the first of the region's jurisdictions to make extensive use of video cameras in police department patrol cars. Other jurisdictions, such as Arlington County, have installed them in just a few cars or, like the District, have no plans to use them. Fairfax County is considering several surveillance systems, a police spokeswoman said.
The president of the Montgomery Fraternal Order of Police said he fears the use of video cameras could spur unfounded lawsuits.
"Our concern is the legal liability of our officers," Walter E. Bader said.
Montgomery NAACP President Linda M. Plummer hailed Moose's initiative, and Jim R. Sobers, head of the chapter's criminal justice committee, predicted that the cameras "will help police officers act in a professional way, and it'll function in their best interest, as well as that of the community they serve.
"Change has to start some place. So I don't care if it's starting in Silver Spring or Germantown. All I care about is that change is starting," he said.
Walter I. Blair, the attorney who, with Johnnie Cochran, helped broker the $2 million civil settlement between Roberts's family and the county, said the man's widow often has asked if the cameras were installed. Now, Blair said last week, he can give Carolyn S. Roberts a solid answer.
"These cameras help the police look back after the events to see if their actions were correct. They make the police officers think carefully before becoming unnecessarily physical with citizens," he said.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Montgomery Police Chief Charles A. Moose, left, and Prince George's Police Chief John S. Farrell say they want cameras in all patrol cars.
CAPTION: About 200 video cameras will be installed in police cars this summer.