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Maryland Official: Videos Of Police Acts Are Public Records

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Videos of police actions recorded by body cameras are "clearly public records" that fall under the Maryland Public Information Act, the chairman of a state commission said Tuesday.

Frederic Smalkin, a former federal judge who is chairman of a 22-member commission tasked with recommending statewide best practices for police body cameras, made his remarks during the panel's first meeting. As it begins its work, the commission is reviewing a document put together by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention that outlines policies followed by police departments in other states.

The panel will meet on Sept. 1 to vote on recommendations. It will submit the suggestions on Oct. 1 to state lawmakers and the Maryland Police Training Commission, which is tasked with putting the regulations together by Jan. 1.

One of the first issues addressed is to what degree recordings of police activities should be public. Many states have long complex procedures relating to when such activities should be disclosed, Smalkin said, but in Maryland the law is clear: Videotaped police activities are public records.

Smalkin noted that there are exceptions for investigative and personnel materials. He said any changes relating to public disclosure would need to be made by the Legislature.

The use of police body cameras won't be mandatory in Maryland. Only about 20 police departments in the state use them now, and many of them are small departments, according to a legislative analysis conducted earlier this year. Additional departments are considering buying and deploying them.

"I want to stress it's not a regulation that says to the local police departments that you must adopt the body camera, what it says is ... if you do, here is the way it should be utilized," Smalkin said.

Part of the panel's challenge will be to create recommendations that will be useful to small and large police departments statewide, the chairman said.

"So in doing a one-size-fits-all, there are many considerations, and we're trying to find a policy that is, I guess you would call it, the Goldilocks policy: not too hot, not too cold, but just right," Smalkin said.

Lawmakers passed legislation to create the commission this year to create a statewide policy for body cameras. The recommendations will go through the state's regulatory process, which will include reviews and opportunities for public comment.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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