SNOW HILL – Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser outlined the staggering impact she expects the police body camera mandate to have on her office this week.
Heiser met with the Worcester County Commissioners Nov. 16 to brief them on the far-reaching effect Maryland’s body camera mandate would have on Worcester County. It’s her office that will have to process all of the video footage produced.
“The state’s attorney’s office is the primary destination for all of the evidence law enforcement collects,” she said. “That’s what these body cameras will be. They are an entirely new body of evidence for every single case that we prosecute.”
While the cameras don’t have to be in place until 2025, Heiser said she was approaching the commissioners now because her office would need to increase its staffing in order to deal with the influx in video it would be processing once cameras were being worn.
“Our workload will increase exponentially,” she said. “Every case will have a video associated with it. Probably more than one video.”
She used past Boardwalk incidents as an example. There could be a situation with multiple defendants and multiple officers involved, Her team will have to watch the video, prepare it as evidence and redact sections to comply with other requirements, such as HIPAA. They then have to provide the video to the defense in time to meet discovery requirements.
“Once agencies go live with these body cameras it’ll be like drinking from a fire hose for our team at the state’s attorney’s office,” she said. “There would be no way we could keep up with that volume.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting said he didn’t think any changes needed to be made until they had to be—in 2025.
“Maybe something will happen between now and then,” he said.
Heiser said the issue was that her office worked with 12 different law enforcement agencies. Several of them, including the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the Ocean City Police Department, plan to implement cameras before 2025. Her office has to be ready for that.
“I’m going to have to start building staff now to be able to manage the influx,” she said.
She said that the safety of the county would suffer if her office, which already has the highest caseload per prosecutor in the state, couldn’t successfully prosecute cases.
“Everything our police do leads to prosecution,” she said. “If there’s no prosecution, there’s effectively no law enforcement.”
She said studies indicated the county should likely hire one additional prosecutor for every 50-75 officers wearing cameras. There are more than 400 officers in Worcester County.
Other issues that need to be considered are space—her office is already full—and the technicalities of the cameras themselves, the software and storage that will be required and an anticipated increase in Public Information Act requests for video.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said officials recognized the difficulties of dealing with a new unfunded mandate.
“You’re going to have to keep these plates in the air while they’re spinning them,” he said.
Heiser said one of her primary concerns was getting the necessary staff when she’d be competing with other state’s attorney’s offices throughout the state, as all will need more personnel to deal with the new requirements.
When asked if local law enforcement agencies were aware of her concerns regarding body camera implementation, Heiser said they were and that she hoped all the entities involved could work together.