MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Long before the events in Ferguson, Missouri created a drum beat for police officers to start wearing body cameras – a few dozen police departments around the country were already experimenting with them.
“In five years every cop in America is going to be wearing a body camera,” said Dan Oates, the new police chief in Miami Beach. “It is a force that can’t be stopped.”
Before arriving in Florida, he introduced body cameras to the Aurora, Colorado police department. “We had remarkable success with them in Aurora,” he said.
Now he is hoping for the same on Miami Beach. Earlier this month the Miami Beach City Commission approved spending $600,000 to start outfitting Beach cops with the cameras – which range anywhere from $300 to $1,000 a camera. Miami Beach however won’t be the first agency in South Florida to use them.
The Coral Springs Police Department has been testing them since the start of the year.
In Miami, nearly two dozen officers have already been assigned body cameras with more expected to be distributed in the coming weeks. But while body cameras may seem inevitable there is a cost – both in terms of money and privacy.
Miami Police Chief Manny Orosa said he was going to have to hire as many as eight new employees to process the requests for videos that will inevitably come from prosecutors, detectives, reporters, attorneys and members of the public.
“It is looking to be a very expensive proposition, not necessarily the cameras but the storing and retrieving of all the videos,” he said, “probably in the millions of dollars.”
So why spend that money for a video program when you can take that money and put more officers on the street?
“Well the issue has always been that everyone wants to know what a policeman did in any particular instance,” he explained. “When something like Ferguson pops up, if you have a video that would have been resolved within a few hours. Whether the officer was right or wrong it would have been resolved within a few hours.”
In essence the body cameras allow for NFL style instant replay in police shootings.
“As police officers we have that special power of putting someone in jail and taking somebody’s life,” Orosa said. “And that’s why I think it’s important so the public knows that what the officer did was right or was wrong.”
In the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho shooting, prosecutors said the video helped them decide that the officer was justified in shooting the man because he was moving toward him with two knives.
A few weeks ago in Illinois, when community tensions rose after a police shooting, the department immediately released the body cam video and it calmed community concerns.
“They are a great record of what happens during these police encounters,” said Michelle Richardson, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Florida. “We think body cameras are a win-win if they are implemented in the right way, and that’s a win for the police and for the public.”
The belief is the camera is an objective witness that protects everyone. It protects the police against false complaints and the public against abuse.
But the thought of being recorded every time you encounter a police officer raises privacy and civil liberty concerns. The recordings are a public record available for anyone to see.
If Coral Gables police were wearing body cameras when they were called to NBA great Ray Allen’s home earlier this summer for a reported burglary, then his wife, his children, their bedroom all would have been recorded and become a public record for anyone to request.
And Miami Beach wants to go even further – outfitting meter maids and code enforcement officers with body cameras capturing even more encounters with the public. Miami Beach City Commissioner Jonah Wolfson said he is worried they are moving too quickly. And that the public may not be ready.
“Somebody gives you a ticket and you want to tell them to go…,” Wolfson paused, before adding: “So we are going to have that on video?”
Police videos are already capturing us in our worst moments thanks to dash cams – as Broward Judge Gisele Pollack learned when she was stopped for drunk driving.
And a dash cam video from Fort Pierce showing a young woman, wearing only a t-shirt after being stopped for drunk driving is a YouTube sensation.
“Young Lady No Pants Does Field Sobriety Test” – has more than three point one million views.
The City of Miami is working with the Tampa Police Department and the University of Central Florida to study the best procedures and protocols on how to use the cameras.
“The law has to catch up with technology – right now our public records law and our privacy laws are not in tune with the cameras,” said Chief Orosa.
“Listen all these details have to be worked out,” agreed Oates, from Miami Beach. “But the broad presumption is, if you are having contact with a police officer regarding a police matter, that’s an event we want to record.”
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