Body-camera bill, back in Florida House for 2016, easily wins initial approval in first committee hearing
As police officer-worn body cameras become a more common accountability tool in Florida and throughout the country, state lawmakers again want to require law enforcement agencies to have standard protocols in place for officer training, use of the device and storage of the footage it captures.
After earning unanimous favor in the House last spring, a similar proposal stalled in the Senate amid the chaotic end to the 2015 legislative session.
New legislation filed for the upcoming 2016 session unanimously cleared the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee during its first hearing Wednesday.
Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said House Bill 93 is meant to ensure "the citizens and the police are held accountable and kept safe."
"If you look at the news, if you look at a lot of what’s taking place right now, you’ll find there’s a lot of pointing-fingers taking place — whether from the citizens’ standpoint or from the police aspect," said Jones, who's co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.
The proposal has backing from a variety of law enforcement groups, such as police chiefs, county sheriffs and the Florida Police Benevolent Association. Representatives from Miami-Dade and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office also supported it Wednesday.
The measure doesn’t go so far as requiring the actual use of body-camera technology by the state’s more than 300 police agencies, which Jones said would impose an expensive, unfunded mandate on state and local agencies.
"We couldn’t do a mandate, because some of the agencies don’t have the capacity to do it," he told reporters. "I think our agencies are responsible enough, and I think a lot of them are moving in that direction to bring body cameras to their agencies."
The Senate companion for the 2016 session, SB 418, was introduced by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, but hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet this fall.
Less than 10 percent of the state’s police agencies would be affected by the legislation, because most don't equip their officers with the technology. Eighteen agencies statewide — including Miami, Miami Beach and Customs inspectors at Miami International Airport — use officer body cameras, while another 10 — such as Tampa police — have pilot programs in place.
Miami-Dade commissioners in June authorized up to $5 million over the next five years toward purchasing the technology, but it's not in place yet.
The body-camera legislation is among several initiatives advocated for by the legislative black caucus in the wake of the police-involved shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach County last month.
Jones was shot dead at 3 a.m. Oct. 18 on an Interstate 95 off-ramp after his car broke down. A Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Nouman Raja, was on duty in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police van, when he stopped to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle. Jones was shot three times.
Raja’s vehicle had no dash camera and he wore no body camera. Family advocates and some lawmakers say that had Raja done so, the footage could have revealed exactly how and why Jones was shot dead.
Rep. Shevrin Jones’ and William’s bill as drafted, though, wouldn’t have helped in that instance because Palm Beach Gardens police don’t own or use body cameras.