Recently, Axon the company formerly known as Taser International recognized for their Taser stun guns, has offered a free body camera to every sworn law enforcement officer in the United States. See https://www.axon.com/info/offer . The offer is in fact a free body camera and supporting software for a 1-year trial period. But that may be just enough to encourage rapid adoption among law enforcement agencies that have not already implemented the technology.
While not every law enforcement agency will take Axon up on the offer of free body cameras for their officers, it will certainly increase their prevalence and we could very well see more law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay Area utilizing the technology.
Today, Pasco County Sheriff’s Officers record police-civilian interactions on officer worn body cameras. In fact, every Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputy is equipped with a body camera. Sheriff Chris Nocco has stated that civilian complaints about interactions with officers has decreased since implementing the program in 2015.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Polk County sheriffs have gone on the record recently stating that they are against using body worn cameras on deputies.
While recording police-civilian interactions is legal, policies need to be better developed among local law enforcement agencies to ensure consistency and to respect the privacy rights of citizens.
There are a litany of concerns given the potential of a ubiquitous use of body cameras. First, body cameras are often thought of as a check on police power and potential police brutality but could easily become a surveillance tool especially if technology like facial recognition was to be added into the camera’s capabilities (note: Axon has already announced that they plan to release this technology for their body cameras). As well, there are few guidelines in place for citizens to opt-out of a body camera interaction with police. Further, consistency is required as to when a recording should begin and end.
Beyond questions of how the cameras should be used during the interaction, how the recordings are managed by law enforcement is just as critical. Law enforcement must have a plan in place as to rules for the release of footage as well as public records requests specifically for body camera recordings. Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies could easily become overwhelmed with requests from the public, media, and attorneys given the almost endless stream of recordings they could potentially capture.
These are just some of the questions that local Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies must address before implementing body cameras. Florida does have a statute on the books that addresses body cameras, but it essentially cedes control of the specific policies and procedures to each local law enforcement agency which could create a different set of rules and standards even within the same county. The State of Florida should pass legislature as to the use of body cameras to create consistency among all Florida law enforcement agencies to avoid this issue.
If you have been video recorded with a body camera or dashboard camera when you were arrested in the Tampa Bay area including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater, Largo and the surrounding counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee or Sarasota, call the Morris Law Firm for a strategy session on your case. Call 727-388-4736, Option #1 for New Clients.