TALLAHASSEE, FL Legislation that would have required police officers to wear body cameras is quickly transforming as lawmakers and police associations express concerns over state government mandates and privacy.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, the West Park Democrat sponsoring the bill, originally wanted police officers across the state fitted with body cameras, an idea that has gotten national attention in the wake of the high-profile deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., both of whom are black.
During a workshop on the bill last month, lawmakers expressed concerns about placing state mandates on local police departments, which prompted Jones to pull the body camera mandate provisions. Jones’ bill now requires the roughly two-dozen law enforcement agencies in Florida that already use body cameras to develop procedures for how to use them, maintain them and store recorded data.
He said he was not upset the mandate language was removed.
“At the end of the day we just want to show we are working together on something. … I’m happy with that,” said Jones, whose bill was passed Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on a unanimous vote.
Though he secured a unanimous vote, Jones still has work to do as the bill moves through the committee process. Even members who supported the proposal said they have concerns over the privacy of both police officers and citizens.
“One of the basic rights of this country is the right to privacy,” said state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. “If you can work forward and really solidify the privacy section, I will support it today.”
Gary Bradford, a lobbyist for the Police Benevolent Association, said the biggest privacy concern is cameras recording an officer’s day-to-day activities that have nothing to do with law enforcement.
“It will capture roll calls, walking down the hallway, or just as you go through your day,” he said.
Jones said he has met with the PBA and is willing to add provisions to the bill addressing privacy concerns. The association has presented him with guidelines crafted by the U.S. Department of Justice, which recommend officers record “all calls for service during all law enforcement-related encounters.”
As a result of the high-profile deaths involving police officers, the Department of Justice has requested $97 million to support the use of body cameras and help train departments that already use them. A 2014 DOJ survey found that roughly 30 percent of law enforcement agencies that use body cameras nationally do not have written policies or procedures.
The Fort Myers police officers started wearing body cameras last year, making them the first in Southwest Florida to utilize the technology. However, there have been disagreements between the chief and the police union over how and when the devices should be used.
To get his bill passed its first committee stop, Jones assured members that he heard their privacy concerns loud and clear, and would amend his bill at a later committee stop.
“I will definitely work on this to put some language in there to address the privacy issue,” he said.
The Senate companion bill, sponsored by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, is set to get its first committee hearing next week.