Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Anti-cop cam commissioner demonstrates value of video

It was just research, of course. The wobbly looking motorcyclist pulled over by Key West police officers was conducting an undercover investigation into one of the more controversial issues facing local governments.

So there he was, feigning intoxication, and doing it well — the very Miami-Dade county commissioner who had voted against cop cams making his cop cam debut.

It was a convincing performance. Unfocused eyes. Halting speech. Allowing his Harley to tumble over.

We now know that Pepe Diaz must not have been the drunk that we thought we were seeing on police body camera video shot Sept. 19. We know this because the four-term county commissioner entered a plea of not guilty to the DUI charge on Monday morning.

Diaz could have taken a breathalyzer test that evening and been done with it. But he refused. Which might seem a puzzling tactic for someone who, as he told one of the Key West police officers, had only consumed a rum and coke and a glass of champagne three hours before police nabbed him speeding down Roosevelt Boulevard.

A sober rider would have merely received a speeding ticket and been sent on his way. Diaz, instead, provided video proof for his longtime supporters in the police union that cop cams weren’t contrived to make police officers look bad.

The video revealed Key West officers Gary Celcer, Randall Hartle and Alexander Rodriguez Jr. as professional, polite, even helpful when the unsteady biker had trouble keeping his big motorcycle upright. They didn’t mock Diaz (more than I could have resisted) when he mentioned his political credentials, suggested that they call his friend the Monroe County sheriff or assured them that he was the “most pro-police guy there is.”

Pro-police Diaz has twice voted (on the losing side) against funding police cams for Miami-Dade police officers. But when he cast the lone dissenting vote at a committee meeting in May, he didn’t say he was inalterably opposed to outfitting police with cameras. As the Herald’s Doug Hanks reported, Diaz only said, “I’m not there yet.”

Maybe he got there that evening in Key West.

South Florida police unions have been nearly apoplectic about the new technology. (Though a peer-reviewed academic study, underwritten by the Police Foundation and Cambridge University, found the cameras had mostly a positive effect, markedly reducing public complaints against police officers.)

The Sun-Sentinel reported that earlier this month a majority of the union members in the Hallandale Beach Police Department had signed a harsh letter rebuking Broward County Police Benevolent Association President Jeff Marano after his lobbying failed to dissuade city commissioners from approving a cop cam pilot program. Marano had complained to city officials that body cameras were only meant to “burn a cop.”

Now we know better, thanks to Commissioner Diaz. The “most pro-police guy there is” did what he could to allay those union apprehensions. When the cameras rolled, it was more like watching a politician burn himself.

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