Montgomery County will offer discounts for private security cameras

Montgomery County Council this week passed a bill aimed at preventing crime by encouraging residents and businesses in certain areas to purchase personal surveillance cameras.

The program allows residents, business owners, or nonprofits to apply for a rebate or voucher to cover the cost of a camera on their property.

“As an opt-in program, the Private Security Camera Incentive Program will strengthen community efforts to combat crimes that occur in their own neighborhoods,” said Council Member Craig Rice (D- District 2) in a statement earlier this week announcing the program with council member Sidney Katz (D-District 3).

Community members and businesses must have property in a ‘priority area’ to qualify for reimbursement, which the bill defines as police districts identified by the police chief as ‘in need of security cameras based on public safety indicators, including crime levels,” according to a council staff report.

These programs are not new. The district created a rebate program in 2016 to offset crime, resulting in a network of more than 1,000 private cameras. But Montgomery County’s bill did not pass without debate over privacy and racial disparities in over-policing.

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Based on recommendations from the Montgomery County NAACP, the board amended the bill to prevent purchased cameras from being “deliberately used” to record the private property of others. The bill also requires businesses to prominently post notices that will alert visitors to cameras, according to the council’s report.

They also voted to approve an amendment requiring the police chief to disclose program regulations, including the “methodology used to identify a priority area,” the “permitted collection, dissemination, use and disposal of camera-recorded footage.” security cameras purchased under the program” and “minimum standards for security cameras purchased under the program”.

A racial equity and social justice impact statement submitted by the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO), noted in the council’s report, found that the bill could “widen racial and social disparities in the policing by expanding the authority of the Montgomery County Police Department to increase police surveillance in communities of color through private security cameras.

The OLO recommended that the council collect various contributions from the community and require Montgomery County Police to partner with the community to evaluate all new policing technologies with a racial equity and social justice lens, according to the council report.

The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce also submitted a letter to council supporting the bill, but raising concerns about the funding provided to support functioning monitoring systems and installation costs.

“We would like to support this measure, but the fact that the program is offered ‘subject to ownership’ concerns us,” the letter said. “We are concerned this will raise unrealistic expectations among businesses and residents for discounts that cannot be funded.”

Reimbursements were limited to camera costs, according to the council’s report.

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Some opponents of the bill argue that the investment should go to other needed crime prevention resources in the county.

“It will capture crime, but it won’t prevent crime,” Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, Montgomery County community member and co-founder of “Racial Justice NOW!”, said in an interview. “People say, ‘Oh, there’s an increase in crime.’ Okay, well, where are the resources to make sure these young people have access to these things that will keep them out of trouble?”

“That’s what we’re asking for, not security cameras,” she added.

Rice said in a memo sent to the Public Safety Committee that the purpose of the bill is to support “our most vulnerable residents” and community policing. The program will not require the video to be shared with police, except under a legal warrant, or posted on social media, Rice said.

“This program does not provide police with direct, real-time access to the video,” Rice said in the memo. “These cameras will be owned by individuals and/or companies who the police can ask for access to the footage.”

The police chief will also be required to provide an annual report to council on the implementation of the program, according to the council report.

Program details will be available on the Montgomery County Police Department website, according to the news release.

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