Miami-Dade County

In police camera push, Gimenez finds an ally in Obama

A publicity photo from Taser shows the kind of body camera the Miami-Dade police department wants for its officers.
A publicity photo from Taser shows the kind of body camera the Miami-Dade police department wants for its officers.

As Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez fights the police union over body cameras, he can point to a high-profile ally in his corner: the White House.

On Monday, the Obama administration announced a $75 million plan to help local governments pay for the cameras as part of its response to unrest after the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gimenez quietly proposed his camera plan before teenager Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9, but Ferguson prompted the mayor to launch a public push for the devices as a high-tech way to head off a similar guessing game over a police fatality.

“He sees them as the wave of the future. And he believes that, by the end of the decade, cameras will be a standard part of the police uniform,” said Gimenez’s spokesman, Michael Hernández.

The mayor’s push has him at odds with the county police union, which calls the camera plan ill-conceived and rushed. On Tuesday, county commissioners scheduled a vote on requiring Gimenez to consult with the union on a police-camera study before purchasing the devices.

“We have no policy in place,” said John Rivera, president of the local Police Benevolent Association union. “We haven’t set the stage to do this thing, much less do it right.”

Police funding was the No. 1 controversy for Gimenez during the last budget process, and he backed off plans to cut hundreds of jobs in the department. The administration is in the midst of contentious contract talks with the police union, and the amount of labor costs from those deals will have a big impact on the following year’s budget.

Body cameras have the country’s leading Democrat and the county’s top Republican on the same side of an issue as Gimenez gears up for reelection in 2016. Gimenez said last month he may leave the GOP to be an independent as he runs for a second full term in the non-partisan mayor’s post.

In September, Miami Beach commissioners approved a $2.7 million plan to equip police, parking enforcers and even code inspectors with body cameras over the next five years. Miami is also in the midst of a body-camera test, which the city’s police union opposes.

This year’s county budget includes $1 million for 500 cameras, and Miami-Dade is asking suppliers for prices on 1,500 devices to be purchased in phases. Hernández said the prospect of federal matching funds wouldn’t delay purchasing the cameras, since it’s not known if Washington will actually come through with help.

Congress needs to authorize the White House body-camera proposal, which would provide local governments matching funds to defray the costs of buying the devices and storing the footage they produce. Miami-Dade expects to spend most of its money archiving the video its police force produces.

“The drawback on the cameras is the cost of storage,” said Juan Perez, the county’s deputy police director. He sees cameras eventually saving litigation costs over police misconduct. “When a camera is involved, everybody is going to behave better.”