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Courts / Law

Florida Police Use Body Cameras

More Florida police departments are equipping their officers with body cameras. Some cities like Miami Beach even plan to have other types of employees including code enforcement officers wear cameras. And the US Border Patrol will begin testing them on agents next month. In the aftermath of last month’s police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri the devices are garnering support but they’re also raising privacy concerns.

The Fort Myers Police Department will receive 40 body cameras this month. The Sarasota Police Department is looking to buy about two dozen for officers to start using later this year. Cape Coral Police and the Collier Sheriff’s office may also buy them. Daytona Beach Police began using body cameras last year. Its city commission just approved buying 50 more. They cost about 900 dollars each including maintenance and data storage. Daytona Beach Police Public Information Officer JimmieFlyntsaid officers ask to use the cameras. He said they’ve been advantageous.

“In 2013 we had an officer involved shooting where a gentleman was threatening to kill his girlfriend. He was locked in the house. He had a knife. The officers had to break into the house and both officers had body cameras and this was caught on video where the officers had no other choice but to shoot him,” describedFlynt. “He was in the process of stabbing her. And then after the incident was over there were several of the residents yelling and screaming that all the boy was doing was laying (sic) in bed and the police didn’t have to shoot him and stuff like that but once they saw the video that pretty much stopped all that discussion about whether the police had to do what they had to do because they could see that the police did the appropriate action.”

That’s what the cameras are meant for, improving accountability for both the officers and the public. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida supports using body cameras. Its Director of Public Policy Michele Richardson said as long as there are very clear privacy policies in place they can be a win-win for both the police and the public by creating a factual record f police and public encounters.

“They could be used for oversight purposes and to resolve complaints and provide some accountability for what’s happening, said Richardson. “Often it’s a he said/he said with the police and the public and this just provides the facts.” 

Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police General Counsel Eugene Gibbons said he thinks body cameras have a place in law enforcement as an accurate tool in effectively documenting incidents officers encounter. But he said police unions like his have had some concerns.

“Over here in Miami Dade County there was a grievance filed because the Police Benevolent Association believes that they somehow distract the officer especially in situations where use of force is required and to have the officer have to pause and remember to have to turn on the camera seems to cause concern because if they don’t things of that nature will they be subject to discipline because the concern will then be the public will then say well no video was used, why not, must be misconduct being covered up by the police,” said Gibbons.

There are also concerns about the authenticity of the videos and people’s privacy. Gibbons noted police are often called to people’s homes where they encounter dysfunction, mental health and other crisis situations.

“Then if these encounters are going to be recorded I don’t think a lot of people understand what they’re opening themselves up to in that regard,” said Gibbons. “The inside of their homes just the privacy itself as well as the actions the statements they may make so there could be some embarrassment for folks that they never thought about.”

But Gibbons said he feels the cameras will reinforce that most police officers are doing the right thing, enforcing the law and that they have a difficult job.  And he said the small number who abuse their authority will be kept in check because the cameras act as a deterrent.

A new Mason Dixon poll finds more than two thirds of Florida voters support the use of body cameras.  A new report from the U.S. Department of Justice  says one-third of the police departments that report using body cameras do not have a written policy governing their use. The report lists recommendations, protocols and policies. One significant conclusion in the report is that there is a correlation between the use of body cameras and the reduction of excessive use of force complaints.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

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