On the same day a white South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting an unarmed black man, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed a measure that would have police agencies establish policies and procedures addressing the proper use of body cameras for their officers.
The measure, SB 7080, would allow law enforcement agencies in Florida to put their own policies in place to train cops before allowing them to wear the cameras.
At the moment, there are thirteen Florida police departments that use body cams, with nine of them having pilot programs to test them — among them, Palm Beach County.
The committee met on Tuesday to vote on the measure, but not before debating its pros and cons. A main sticking point are the potential problems that might lead to allowing cities to establish their own sets of rules. Another point debated by the Senate committee was the concern over citizen privacy — what to do when or if officers record people around them even when not they're involved in an incident where they're arresting anyone or pulling anyone over.
A separate bill, SB 248, is looking to tackle at least the latter issue, but the problem with that measure, according to opponents, is that it would put serious restrictions on what footage taken from the cameras the public would be allowed to see.
As the South Carolina incident can attest to, video footage has become a vital part in policing the police. In that video, North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager is clearly shown firing eight times as Walter L. Scott as he ran away from the officer. Scott was then cuffed while on the ground after being shot. Scott died, and Slager was charged. That specific video was shot by a bystander, but the narrative is left with little ambiguity.
Likewise, video helped capture Fort Lauderdale police officer Victor Ramirez slapping a homeless man when the man wouldn't comply. Ramirez has been charged with battery.
The recent rise in police officers firing at unarmed people has made body cameras a topic of conversation nationwide.
The SB 258 bill, however, would create exceptions in records law for video or audio recorded by police body cameras. Specifically, the bill targets restrictions on footage being shot in a private home, a hospital or on the scene of a medical emergency — typically places where officers most answer calls.
Moreover, Florida already has its Sunshine laws in place, which do not allow for the public release of audio or video of someone bing killed. That includes an officer killing someone, The law is specific in having only a person's next of kin being able to see the video of their loved one being killed, even it it's captured on a dash cam, or body cam.