OCPD Begins Body-Worn Camera Training

OCPD Begins Body-Worn Camera Training
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – With the arrival of the summer season and the anticipated spike in crime, Ocean City police officers will be equipped with a new tool in their toolbox in the form of body-worn cameras to record incidents and interactions.

In February, the Mayor and Council approved a contract with private vendor Axon to provide body-worn cameras for all Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers. Last year, the state legislature passed the Maryland Police Accountability Act, which requires the majority of police officers in the state to be equipped with body-worn cameras by 2025.

However, Ocean City and its police department from the beginning expressed a desire to get out in front of the body-worn camera issue and spent months planning to have a body-worn camera program in place for this summer.

The department tested three different body-worn camera vendors, and after careful vetting, decided to go with private provider Axon.

The contract approved in February included an upfront cost of nearly $496,000, along with a subscription cost of over $35,000 per month for three months, or a total cost in year one of nearly $602,000. The estimated cost in fiscal year 2023 will be over $318,000, while the expected cost in fiscal years 2024 through 2027 will be over $425,000.

Hefty numbers to be sure, but the body-worn program could pay dividends, especially heading into June, what is typically the most troublesome part of the summer season. OCPD Deputy Communications Manager Ashley Miller said the training on the new body-worn cameras began last week for certain staff.

“Last week, several of our officers went through the Axon train-the-trainers program,” she said. “Axon came down to train command staff, supervisors, forensic services personnel and a handful of officers on the body cameras. The officers selected for this will now become the body camera trainers for the rest of our staff.”

Miller said the early training for those who will ultimately train the rest of the department’s sworn officers, seasonal officers and public safety aides in the usage of the body-worn cameras has been positive thus far early into the new program.

“The initial feedback we are hearing from the officers is positive,” she said. “Over the next couple of weeks, the trainers will provide any feedback on the cameras and make any recommendations needed for implementing the policy and program.”

Miller said the department’s officers will all be trained on the usage of the body-worn cameras and the public can expect all interactions with police officers to be recorded and saved. After the training is completed for all officers, the runout of the new program will be in place soon.

“At this time, the public can expect to see some of our officers wearing the black Axon body camera fixed to the front of their uniform shirt,” she said. “Our officers will notify anyone they come in contact with that they are being audibly and visually recorded.”

The body-worn camera program will help level the playing field for OCPD officers, who often find themselves with dozens of cellphone cameras pointed in their direction during incidents and arrests. Such was the case early last summer when video snippets of a handful of arrests on the Boardwalk went viral on social media without providing any context for the larger incidents.

Of course, implementing the body-worn camera program will cause a trickle-down of stress with the thousands of hours of body camera footage needed to be processed, stored and potentially used as evidence in the prosecution of cases.

Also in February, the Worcester County Commissioners approved 12 requested new positions from Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser largely due to the resort’s body camera program.

The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office is anticipating a significant spike in its workload when the OCPD goes full time with the body-worn camera program.

The state’s attorney’s office will likely have to process hours and hours of body-worn camera footage to be used as evidence in the prosecution of cases, most of which are generated in Ocean City.

To that end, the Mayor and Council in April approved a request from the state’s attorney’s office for satellite office space in the Public Safety Building at 65th Street for additional staff to handle the increased workload.

Miller said the OCPD has also hired additional staff to help with the increased workload related to the body-worn camera program implementation.

“We recently hired two new crime scene technician trainees, who will help to identify, collect, record and preserve evidence found at crime and disaster scenes for laboratory examination and court presentations,” she said. “In addition, they will assist in processing the evidence and footage from the body cameras.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.