Miami-Dade County

Police union chief links body-camera push to black votes, sparks protest

Kevin Bove, a personal trainer in North Miami Beach, holds a sign in protest of John Rivera, president of Miami-Dade’s police union. Rivera claimed the county’s mayor wanted body cameras for police in order to gain favor with black voters.
Kevin Bove, a personal trainer in North Miami Beach, holds a sign in protest of John Rivera, president of Miami-Dade’s police union. Rivera claimed the county’s mayor wanted body cameras for police in order to gain favor with black voters. Miami Herald

The head of Miami-Dade’s police union on Thursday defended his comments that Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s body-camera plan for police is aimed at black voters, remarks that drew a morning protest outside union headquarters.

About 40 people assembled outside the Police Benevolent Association’s offices in Doral, demanding an apology from union chief John Rivera. In a Sunday television interview with Gimenez’s 2016 challenger, Rivera said the mayor is pursuing police body-cameras because “he is so desperate to try and gain favor in the African-American community, because they are the ones who are pushing this,” according to a transcript by a communications firm with a tie to Gimenez’s reelection effort.

“Cams on cops! Apologize John!” the largely black crowd chanted during the protest, which lasted about 45 minutes. Among the slogans on the signs: “Protect All Miami-Dade Residents: Body Cams Now!” “Body Cameras = Accountability.” “#Black Lives Matter.”

In an interview after the protest, Rivera confirmed the substance of the remarks. He made them in Spanish during an interview with Raquel Regalado, a school board member and part-time television host who is also challenging Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral race.

“I stand by that statement,” Rivera said Thursday, referring to his comments on Esta semana con Raquel, her Mira TV show. Referring to body cameras, Rivera said: “This is a political tool. He wants to have it for his commercials, and for his reelection bid.”

LSN Communications, which produces a daily email report on Miami’s Spanish-language media, provided a transcript and translation of the Rivera interview at the Herald’s request. LSN’s daily media digest, “Qué Pasa,” included an excerpt from the interview. Jesse Manzano-Plaza, an LSN executive, is working as a consultant for a Gimenez political committee.

Rivera’s comments brought a rebuke from Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández. “Mayor Gimenez has been a trailblazer on this issue because it will benefit both our police officers and our 2.6 million residents,” Hernández said in a statement. “It seems like Mr. Rivera believes that if he keeps repeating a lie, it will be become fact. That’s unfortunate, as is his politicizing of an important issue for Miami-Dade County.”

County commissioners this month approved Gimenez’s plan to spend $5 million during the next five years to equip county police with miniature surveillance cameras. Officers are supposed to activate the cameras during interactions with citizens, with the hope that allegations of misconduct could be quickly confirmed or refuted by video footage.

Civil rights groups, political leaders and the White House have called for wider use of police body cameras after several black people were killed in a string of police encounters or shootings.

Supporters see the cameras as helpful to both residents and officers, since they’ll discourage bogus claims of police misconduct. Rivera said he’s not opposed to the cameras, but said the money should be used to fill vacant positions in the force.

“If we were flush with money, cameras might be an additional great tool,” Rivera said. “But we’ve got a failing radio system, we have no programs for the community. We’re the capital of auto thefts. We do nothing about it. We’re the capital of identify theft. We do nothing about it. We’re the capital of Medicaid fraud. We do nothing about it. But we want cameras.”

At the protest, Kevin Bove, a personal trainer in North Miami Beach, held a sign that read: “Police are Watching Us. Who is Watching Them?”

“It’s all about accountability,” Bove said. “Not just for citizens. But for police, too. Citizens can provoke, too. This holds them accountable.”

Organizer Harris Harrigan said Rivera’s resistance to cameras defies public support for the devices. “Not one person I’ve spoken to in the community that does not want body cameras,” Harrigan said. “What’s the holdup?”

Rivera walked across the highway to present pizzas and bottle water to protesters, but the demonstration broke up just a few minutes before his arrival. Protesters were boarding a van nearby. Told of Rivera’s offer, Harrigan said: “We don’t want pizza. We don’t want water. We want body cameras.”

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