Harford Sheriff’s body cameras has budgeted a $2.7 million spend over 5 years

Harford Sheriff’s body cameras has budgeted a $2.7 million spend over 5 years

Beyond the costs of the equipment — and storage of the body camera footage — the office would employ more people to manage the video if Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s proposed $1 billion fiscal year 2022 budget is adopted as-is.

Body-worn cameras for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office are expected to cost $2.7 million over five years, and staff would receive a pay bump to be competitive with other agencies, according to the proposed budget.

Speaking before the Harford County Council Friday during the last of several days of council work sessions with county department heads and allied agencies, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler asked for three people to manage the body camera program. This year’s proposed budget accounts for 1.5 new positions, and he hopes next year’s budget will include a third person. He said he would have asked for more people to manage the program but believes the office can make it work with three.

“What has been provided in this budget demonstrates a sincere commitment to public safety, to law enforcement, to corrections,” he said.

The sheriff’s office’s proposed operating budget for the coming fiscal year is $92.6 million — a $2.2 million increase from last year’s, according to the document.

The budget takes effect with the start of the new fiscal year July 1, but Gahler said it would take time to get about 600 cameras to 300 deputies. The office aims to have a fully operational program between November and the end of the year.

Kyle Andersen, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said that each deputy would be issued two cameras: one to wear and the other as a backup in case the first is down. Delivery of the cameras will take about eight to 10 weeks. After that, deputies will be trained on their use, and additional staff will be hired.

Asked by Councilman Joe Woods what the feeling among deputies was regarding the camera, Gahler said it has not been cause for consternation.

Harford County began a pilot body-worn camera program about four years ago that equipped 10 deputies with 20 cameras, which continue to be used. Those cameras, Gahler said, have saved the office from baseless complaints, and he is not aware of any deputy opposed to adding more. “The deputies see the value that they bring, the transparency they bring to the community,” he said. “I have not had any deputy… express any reservation, anything other than favorable about moving forward and having body cameras.”

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office was mandated by the state to adopt body cameras by 2023, but County Executive Barry Glassman included funding for them in this year’s proposed budget to stay ahead of the deadline. Officers with the Bel Air and Aberdeen police departments are already equipped with body-worn cameras. Under the proposed budget, staff at the sheriff’s office would also receive a wage bump totaling $3.1 million to put them at a “competitive rate” compared to other jurisdictions, if the budget passes without changes, Gahler said.

The sheriff’s office has 10 vacant positions for correctional deputies, Gahler said, but all its sworn spots are filled, and the office has a list of police officers looking to leave other jurisdictions for Harford’s largest law enforcement agency. “We have a lateral list of police officers looking to leave other jurisdictions and come here, and the fact that it’s not the opposite speaks volumes about the salaries, the benefits and the working conditions here, and the way the community feels about the Harford County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

Though the office has many positions filled, Gahler said the police reform legislation passed this year in the General Assembly would have “disastrous” effects on recruitment of new police officers. He has spoken out against the legislative package on multiple occasions and forecasted Friday that recruiting would be tougher in the future because of the new laws. Those laws will open police misconduct records to the public, overhaul the disciplinary committees that oversee civilian complaints, set new standards on officers’ use of force and put up hurdles to “no-knock” warrants in the state.

“It is going to make less men and women want to come here,” Gahler said. “What the legislature has done is going to probably cost them a lot more money to put police officers on the street.” The county council concluded work sessions last week and held the first of two public hearings on the budget Monday night. The second public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 6, at 7 p.m. People can either call-in or speak in-person at the public hearing, but must pre-register on the county’s website.

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