Legislation moving through the Florida Senate would require law enforcement agencies to set up guidelines for the use of body cameras. One local department appears to be ahead of the curve.
The measure, passed unanimously by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday, not only mandates policy, but also the training of personnel and the storing of the video. Baker State Senator Greg Evers, the committee chairman, says the recordings would only be used when officers are performing their duties.
“If the deputy, or the wearer of the body camera, is not doing something to support his law enforcement duties, then anything else aside from that is non-permissible,” said Evers.
There’s a lot of support among cops, through the Florida Sheriffs and Police Benevolent Associations, and the ACLU. Currently, 13 police departments are using the cameras, while another nine have pilot programs. One of those is the Pensacola Police Department.
“We’ve been trying out different types of cameras,” said Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons. “We’ve had some on the lapels, some of the chest and some in the glasses. Trying to figure out what’s best for the Pensacola Police Department.”
Ten officers are wearing the cameras for now. In all, 55 color cameras and software were purchased last fall, using $95,000 using money raised from seizures and forfeitures. That drew applause from Mayor Ashton Hayward.
“More technology that’s better, it’s going to keep our citizens safe, the public safe and keep our officers safe,” said Mayor Ashton Hayward. “And I think it’s being proactive, and not reactive.”
Chief Simmons says last year’s shooting death of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri and the choking death of an African-American man in New York indirectly affected their timetable to deploy the new technology.
The new procedures include downloading the video into the server, and to the State Attorney’s Office for Judicial review. Assistant State Attorney John Molchan says generally speaking, a video recorded by an on-duty officer is admissible in court. The real legal question about body cams is the recording of conversations.
“The law in Florida (says) you are not allowed to record a person’s conservation in certain circumstances,” Molchan said. “The exceptions are if there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy, or if the consents. The Pensacola Police Department has addressed that in their policy.”
Meanwhile, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is working with the State Attorney’s Office in compiling data on body cams. Those areas include cost, storage of video, and privacy issues. But Sheriff David Morgan has said that he’s not adverse to their eventual use by ECSO.