The Baltimore Police Department, which has come under fire for a number of things in recent years, is once again making headlines because of the alleged conduct of some of its officers. The public defender's office has stated that the body camera video of several Baltimore police officers show the officers “working together to manufacture evidence.” According to CNN, there are at least two incidents of possible evidence manipulation so far. The videos in question allegedly show officers first planting drugs and then finding them.
The first incident occurred in January and came to light in late July of 2017. The body camera footage allegedly shows an officer “planting drugs at the scene of an arrest.” In the video, the officer is seen “placing a plastic bag into a food can and then hiding it under debris.” The officer then leaves the scene. When the officer returns a short while later, he “appears to stumble upon that plastic bag of drugs in the can.” CNN reports that “one officer in that video has been suspended, and the two others were placed on administrative duty amid an investigation.”
The State's Attorney then went back and reviewed cases that the officers in the video had been involved in. Forty-one of those cases “have been dismissed or are slated to be dismissed.” Another fifty-five are still under review. The spokesperson for the Baltimore City State's Attorney stated that “Where these officers are material and necessary witnesses, we are dismissing those cases, which rely exclusively on the credibility of these officers.”
This past week, a second incident was reported. According to CNN, the newest incident took place before the first incident, having happened during November of 2016. In that incident, an officer searched a vehicle and didn't find anything. The officer can be heard on the video “expressing his frustration that they came up with nothing and that there'd be negative consequences if they didn't recover drugs and make an arrest.” The officers were turning their body cameras on and off at “staggered times” and just before the drugs are discovered “one officer is seen squatting by the driver's seat area.” About thirty seconds after this, one of the officers asks if a spot near that area was searched yet. According to CNN, “Nobody responds, and the officer reaches in and locates a bag that appears to contain drugs right by where the prior officer was, and where the car had been thoroughly searched about a half an hour prior with absolutely no results.” The case was ultimately dismissed because of the “suspected police misconduct.” Though there were seven officers at the scene of this alleged drug planting, just two were referred to internal affairs.
The body camera program was only started in Baltimore last year. According to the Huffington Post, the use of body cameras is supposed to “improve the behavior of officers and the public with which they interact.” A study done by the University of South Florida looked at the pilot body camera program implement by the Orlando Police Department. The study found that, among officers who wore cameras, use of force incidents dropped 53% and complaints from civilians dropped 65%.
Body cameras are designed to keep both officers and the public accountable for the actions they take. And, as the two cases from Baltimore demonstrate, they are an effective means of doing just that.