Miami Beach

City commission approves body cameras for employees

Miami Beach’s cops, parking officials and code enforcement officers will be recording interactions with the public with body-worn cameras in the near future.

While cameras on police officers is a growing trend nationally, it is possibly the first instance in the country where a city government will put the devices on some regular civilian employees, including building and fire inspectors.

The Miami Beach City Commission voted 6-1 to approve equipping these city employees with body cameras that would record interactions with the public. Only Commissioner Jonah Wolfson voted against the measure, saying he doesn’t feel it is necessary for civilian employees.

“I embrace it with police officers,” he said, but he didn’t see the need to record the public getting parking tickets. “I would be totally put off by someone sticking a camera in my face.”

City Manager Jimmy Morales explained that he saw potential for protecting city employees and residents by having a record that would settle he-said/she-said situations with inspectors, code enforcement and parking officials. “It’s very similar to why we’re doing it with police,” he said.

The rest of his commission supported the plan as recommended, although all agreed they wanted to see the written policies before the cameras get turned on. “I’d like to know what the rules are ahead of time,” said Commissioner Ed Tobin.

Beach officials plan on rolling out the $2.7 million program over the next few years, with a $600,000 investment in the first year. City staff will evaluate the camera program during the next year to look at any potential issues with the devices or video storage. Policy development and training will happen during coming months.

Before the vote, Vice Mayor Michael Grieco shared some personal experience with some of the frustration of working in parking enforcement.

“I had to break up a fight between a parking official and a customer yesterday,” he said. “They deal with angry people all the time. They get spit on. They get hit.”

In other business, the commission gave initial approval to a lower property tax rate of about $6.02 per taxable assessed property value, a decrease from the current rate of about $6.12. Under this proposed rate, the typical homeowner with a home assessed at about $197,000 would pay about $887 in city taxes, about $13 less than last year. That’s assuming the property owner qualifies for the standard homestead exemption and the home’s assessed value increased by 1.5 percent, the maximum allowed by law this year for an owner-occupied home.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to the city’s budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Even with lower taxes, the city has proposed a $280 million general fund operating budget, which is about 6 percent more than last year.

The final budget hearing will be held at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 30 at City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Drive.