Proposed Florida Body Camera Law Riddled With Exceptions At Behest Of Police Unionby Tim Cushing
Feb. 20, 2015
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Florida's legislators are pushing through bills mandating body camera use by the state's law enforcement officers. So far, so good, except for the fact that law enforcement officers aren't really looking for greater transparency or accountability, at least not according to Florida Police Benevolent Association chief Gary Bradford.
Sen. Chris Smith was unable to slide his bill past the first panel review until concessions had been granted to soothe Bradford's "worries."
“Our concern is if the camera is on, and it’s required to be on through the entire shift, then it will capture video and audio when you have roll calls or when you’re walking down the hallway or just as you’re go through your day. You’re on a lunch break, you’re in the privacy of your own car with your partner, you’re having a conversation about having a fight with your wife in the morning, or something along those lines, and we just think those things are private, and they shouldn’t be part of the discussion,” said Bradford.Except that's not the extent of the exceptions being granted to supposedly ensure the public won't be allowed to eavesdrop on officers' private discussions of their domestic disputes. Instead, the new language provides several options for law enforcement agencies to abuse to deny responses to public records requests.
PCS/SB 248 creates a public records exemption for an audio or video recording made by a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer performing his or her official duties and responsibilities, if the recording:Taken without context, the list of exceptions seems reasonable. But match it up with recent events, and you can see where this set of exceptions could easily nullify this tool of accountability.
Medical emergency exception? Sure, HIPAA and other related laws make medical events and history very private information, subject to several sharing restrictions. But what if a cop is called to assist someone who's suffering a medical emergency or is suicidal or suffers from mental illness? Far too often, a call for help is answered with violence. Under this exception, the underlying medical emergency prompting the police response would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold captured body cam footage.
The exceptions devoted to minors would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold the sort of damning footage that contradicted the Cleveland police narrative in the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Without this footage, the public would have been left to rely on the CPD's claims that Rice refused to comply with multiple orders to put his hands up and "made a move towards his waistband," ultimately resulting in his being shot to death by responding officers. A park surveillance camera recording showed what actually happened: two police officers drove across the park, stopping within feet of Tamir Rice and and shot him within two seconds of arrival.
ACLU Florida's Michelle Richardson says these exceptions are blank checks for LEO opacity and abuse.
"If this was really about privacy, it would apply to what officers can practically release on their own as well," Richardson says. "So this is really just about shielding police misconduct. If police want to control the narrative, they can release what they want."While not nearly as restrictive as the LAPD's policy of only releasing body cam footage to parties involved in criminal or civil court proceedings, it's still a recipe for disaster. Florida has laws in place that already restrict the release of police-captured recordings and this pile of exceptions -- while facially well-intentioned -- allows agencies to further dodge accountability for their officers' misdeeds.