Miami-Dade police deploying 1,000 body cameras

Posted at 9:05 PM, Apr 28, 2016

MIAMI, Fla. — The largest police agency in Florida is outfitting 1,000 of its officers with pager-sized body cameras over the next few months in the state’s biggest such deployment to date, officials announced Thursday.

The Miami-Dade Police Department detailed a $5.5 million plan to begin using the cameras next week, with a goal of 1,000 in the field by the end of September. About $1 million of that comes from a $75 million federal grant program announced in 2014 by President Barack Obama.

Police body cameras have become increasingly popular following a number of fatal shootings or other deaths involving police around the country in places such as Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland and Baltimore. Authorities say the cameras will record entire incidents from start to finish, will cut down on frivolous complaints against officers and also make police more accountable for their actions.

Last year, a University of South Florida study found that use-of-force incidents fell by 53 percent from year to year among a select group of 46 Orlando police officers outfitted with cameras. Civilian complaints against them fell by 65 percent.

Miami-Dade police Director Juan Perez said his department’s officers will have discretion to turn the cameras off in some sensitive situations — he gave an example of an officer assisting a woman with childbirth — but the overall policy is to activate the device the moment an incident or encounter begins.

“A camera does not capture the full story. But it does capture part of that story,” Perez said at a news conference. “It captures evidence where evidence did not exist before.”

The video recordings will be considered public records governed by Florida’s Sunshine laws, which allow broad access but also a number of law enforcement exemptions. The recordings are also likely to be used frequently in criminal prosecutions, Perez said.

“Assume you’re being recorded,” Perez said of anyone involved in a police matter. “Your behavior, what you say will be recorded.”

Florida’s law requiring all parties to consent to be recorded was recently changed by the Legislature so that it does not apply to body-worn law enforcement cameras.

John Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent Association union in Miami-Dade County, said the policies and training have not been developed fully for all of the department’s 2,582 sworn officers. Rivera attributed the swiftness to county Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s upcoming bid for re-election in August.

“If it’s done the right way, there may be benefits,” Rivera said. “We’re not doing it the right way.”

Gimenez, however, said the goal was simply to improve public safety and officer accountability.

“It takes all of us to protect all of us,” the mayor said.