Miami-Dade County

Hundreds of Miami police officers will wear body cameras

Officer Michael Catalano of the Daytona Beach Police Department displays a camera recently brought into use by the department.
Officer Michael Catalano of the Daytona Beach Police Department displays a camera recently brought into use by the department.

About half of Miami’s 1,300-member police department will be equipped with body cameras by 2019, the city has announced.

With tensions flaring once again around the country over officer-involved shootings, Miami police received a $960,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the purchase and use of police cameras. The city secured the grant last week in part by pledging $400,000 of its own money.

The money, according to Miami’s 2017 budget, will pay “for the purchase of 640 body worn cameras, uploading of equipment, digital storage, and technicians to handle the management, retrieval, redaction and release of digital media for the department.” Miami police already own around 100 Taser cameras, purchased more than a year ago as part of a pilot program.

“I think in the end, it will help our internal affairs clearance rate, only because you’ll have a bulk of the uniformed force on video,” said Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes, who said the cameras help document police interactions but aren’t perfect. “It’s not a panacea. Everything isn’t going to be captured.”

Llanes also said that, the city’s announcement notwithstanding, he’s looking to buy around 450 to 500 cameras. He said the purchase will likely have to go through a competitive process, so it’s difficult to say exactly how many cameras the city will buy, or from which vendor

With the wide-scale roll-out of additional cameras, Miami becomes the latest South Florida department to embrace the newly popular but polarizing equipment. Miami-Dade County agreed in March to purchase up to 1,500 cameras, and said Monday that 1,132 officers are wearing the cameras. Miami Beach announced last month that they are planning to more than double the officers, currently 101, wearing cameras.

The growing move to videotape police interaction with the public comes amid renewed tensions over police shootings across the country, including North Carolina, where Keith Lamont Scott was shot last month. In North Miami, where the shooting of unarmed behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey garnered national attention, the city has just allocated $125,000 to purchase cameras.

The hope in increasing the use of body cameras is that recording interactions between police and the public will decrease the number of altercations and help provide objective evidence in the event a confrontation does occur. The federal government’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded Miami the grant as part of a $20 million investment in body cameras in order to increase “transparency and ensure accountability.”

Last week, Cambridge University published a study of police departments in the United Kingdom and California that found a 93 percent decrease in the number of complaints against officers wearing body cameras. In Miami, Llanes said he’s seen mixed results.

Llanes has seen the footage exonerate a wrongly accused officer and substantiate a complaint. But in some cases, he said officers forget to turn on their cameras, or the video footage fails to capture an incident. A study released in August also criticized the department’s procedures for using the technology.

“It’s not fool-proof,” Llanes said.

When Miami first rolled out its pilot program two years ago, its police union criticized its implementation as “reckless.” But Union president Lt. Javier Ortiz said he now supports the increase of cameras. His only concerns, he said, are the rules behind the cameras’ use and the money involved, particularly when it comes to paying for technicians to manage the data and hardware to store it.

“Not only does it increase the public trust, but at the same time it will give the [union] the option that, in the event someone puts a false allegation out against one of our officers to smear their reputation and career, we’ll be able to come after them for perjury,” he said.