A state Senate committee gave initial approval Monday to a proposal that would require law enforcement agencies in Florida that use body cameras — such as several police departments in Miami-Dade and Broward counties — to have policies in place regulating use of the devices and storage of the footage they capture.
The proposal falls short of requiring agencies to use body cameras, but Smith said it would ensure that those officers who wear the devices are trained to use them properly and follow appropriate rules. Body cameras have become a more common tool to accurately document officer interactions with the public.
“We need rules and regulations in place so that if anything goes bad, we can look at those rules and regulations and make sure they’re doing it the right way,” Smith said.
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The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced the bill by a unanimous vote. It’s scheduled to go before two more committees this session.
The House version — HB 93, by fellow Broward County Democrat Rep. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee — is awaiting its third and final hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
Police officers and sheriffs groups endorse the legislation. A representative from Miami-Dade also gave a show of support Monday.
28 police departments in Florida were either using body cameras or had a pilot program in place to do so, as of October.
Out of 301 police departments in Florida, 18 — including Miami and Miami Beach — have body cameras in use and another 10 were operating pilot programs, according to data the Florida Police Chiefs Association provided the Legislature in October.
About one-third of police agencies nationwide use body cameras.
The Legislature attempted to pass a similar measure a year ago, but after clearing the House unanimously, it stalled in the Senate amid the chaotic end to the 2015 session.
What did pass, though, was a law exempting certain body-camera footage from being disclosed under Florida’s public records law. Body-camera footage taken in a home, hospital, mental health institution or other place where privacy is reasonably expected can be released only by the law enforcement agency or the people in a video.
Smith called this year’s bill “the second half” of those initial efforts and he said he’s confident it will clear the Legislature this year.
Lawmakers previously said the bill purposely didn’t require agencies to employ body cameras because that would constitute an unfunded mandate on local governments.
Smith said he wants to make headway on that front by enticing more law enforcement agencies to buy the devices.
The Senate’s budget proposal for 2016-17 includes a one-time allotment of $1 million for county sheriff’s offices to purchase body cameras. Neither the House budget plan nor the one posed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott include such funding.
Smith told the Herald/Times that the money is for a pilot project specific to Broward County.
The bill language doesn’t specify a particular county but does indicate “preference shall be given to sheriff’s offices that employ more than 500 deputies in counties that have a population density of at least 1,000 persons per square mile,” which narrows down the qualifying counties significantly.
Smith — a candidate for the Broward County Commission — said the funding would be a matching grant, intended “to encourage commissions to put forth money and we’ll match it so they get body cameras.” He said he’s “going to be fighting” to get the money included in the final budget the Legislature passes later this session.
“I think we’ve seen the benefit of body cameras on both sides: officers showing the belligerence of people and people sometimes showing the officers’ belligerence, so anything we can do to promote it, I’m all for it,” Smith said.