Body cameras provide new tool for Miami-Dade officers
By the end of September, 1,000 police officers on duty patrolling the streets of unincorporated Miami-Dade County will be videotaping almost every interaction they have with civilians.
If you’re stopped by a cop for speeding, expect to be recorded. If you get caught stealing a bicycle, might as well smile, you’re probably being taped. If you get into a shootout with a cop, there will be a much clearer picture of what actually took place.
Thursday, Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez and Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveiled the much-anticipated initiative at Doral police headquarters. As a bonus to the cops and the public, Gimenez said the county had also purchased 1,000 new AR-15s to help combat crime and 500 pieces of new body armor to keep cops safer.
The body cameras, though, worn on the shirts of police officers and activated with the simple swipe of a button and which are gaining acceptance in police departments nationwide, were the star of Thursday’s show.
“This will modernize our police department and equip our cops to better protect,” said the mayor. “Where they’ve been tested, they’ve resulted in a significant reduction in use of force.”
Said Perez: “It captures evidence, where evidence did not exist before.”
Not everyone will have to wear them. Members of the department’s elite SWAT unit won’t have them. Neither will the Sergeant-At-Arms protecting elected leaders. And not everyone was entirely on board with the plan.
John Rivera, president of the Police Benevolent Association, attended the press conference and said though the technology offers a tremendous opportunity to clear his officers of frivolous complaints, he’s still concerned about the training his officers will have to undertake to learn to use the cameras properly.
Perez said each officer will receive up to four hours training. The cameras will go online in the Midwest district in Doral Monday, then at the county’s north end and finally, the south.
Gimenez lobbied for the cameras months before a national push that began in 2014 after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, was shot to death by a police officer. Riots, which were watched across the world, ensued.
County policy calls for officers to activate their cameras before traffic stops and other contact with the public. It allows for the cameras to be turned off to protect the privacy of witnesses and victims.
The county also created a website which will give the public a chance to view the policy and understand how the videos can be viewed upon request.
State law requires police agencies to store the video for at least 90 days. It also exempts the recordings from public records requests if they take place in a private home, a healthcare facility, or any place someone can reasonably expect the right of privacy.
In the future, Perez and Gimenez said they hope the equipment can be upgraded to live stream and offer facial recognition.
“It doesn’t capture the entire story,” said Perez. “But it will provide us with certain facts we didn’t have before.”