As a bill that would set rules on police body cameras makes its way through the Florida Legislature, Hallandale Beach decided to start its own pilot program for its officers to wear the body cams for at least a year.
Police body cams have become a hot topic his year, given the recent outcry across the nation for police officers to be held accountable for the way they handle arrests. Beginning with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York, to more recent events such as when a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting a fleeing, unarmed black man eight times, body cams have been a national focus.
Another recent incident involved a Tulsa volunteer officer who accidentally pulled out his revolver instead of his stun gun and killed an alleged drug dealer during a struggle with police. That entire incident was caught by another officer's body cam — which he wore on his sunglasses.
It's because of these incidents that the Hallandale Beach Police Department has issued body cams for its officers, making it first city in South Florida to do so. The department plans to spend a year tinkering with the way the cams operate.
The city had been contemplating officer body cams since 2013, but this past Wednesday, commissioners took it to a final vote, with Commissioner Keith London saying, "We don't want to be known as the next Ferguson."
The pilot program is slated to begin in August, according to City Manager Renee Miller. For now, the plan calls for 28 street officers and eight sergeants to wear the cams after undergoing training for use of the cameras. The city had set aside money to invest in the cameras and had been waiting for the commissioners to give the final green light.
"We were smart to be proactive and get in front of this issue and not be the next headline," London added at the meeting Wednesday.
On Monday, the city held a special digital public safety workshop to discuss the cameras and showed video of South Carolina officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott. The idea behind showing the video was to further hit home the point that if Slager had been wearing a body cam, he wouldn't have murdered Scott. That video was captured by a bystander with a cell-phone video camera.
Last week, 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 across the state. That measure would allow law enforcement agencies in Florida to put in place their own policies to train their officers before allowing them to wear the cameras.
Thirteen Florida police departments currently use body cams, with nine of them having pilot programs to test them. Come this summer, Hallandale Beach will join that list.
The one dissent Wednesday came from Hallandale Mayor Joy Cooper, who expressed concern over the city rushing into the body-cam program.
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"I am not sold yet on all the nuts and bolts," she said during the meeting. "I am very concerned about rushing into a pilot."
Cooper's concern is that body cams may not be popular with some police officers. One major concern is when and where officers would be required to turn on their cameras, and Cooper wants assurances that officers won't get into trouble if they forget to turn on their cameras.
For the time being, another bill making its way through the Florida Senate is looking to create exceptions in records law for video or audio recorded by police body cameras. Specifically, SB 248 targets restrictions on footage being shot in private homes and hospitals or on the scene of medical emergencies — typically places where officers respond to most calls.
Florida already has its sunshine laws in place, which do not allow for the public release of audio or video of someone being 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.