A local lawmaker wants police body camera recordings captured in houses and hospitals and those involving minors kept out of public view.
Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, is filing legislation in the wake of calls from the White House and across the nation for recordings of interactions between police and the public to improve accountability.
But Santiago’s bill would make some police recordings — like the one that shows Daytona Beach police officers shooting Jermaine Green, a former standout football player, in a bedroom as he holds a knife to a woman’s throat — exempt from public record laws.
Santiago said he believes protecting an individual’s privacy is more important than what the public may derive from certain recordings.
“Ultimately, the bill’s purpose is to make sure there’s proper controls as to what should get out there and what should be accessible to the public,” Santiago said in a phone interview.
He also said a person’s willingness to contact 9-1-1 could be affected by the possibility of being recorded.
The argument for police body cameras gained national attention after the deaths of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner of New York, both of whom were killed by police officers last year in unrelated incidents. Brown’s family has asked that law enforcement officers be required to wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama has said he wants more law enforcement agencies nationwide using the devices.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said the release of video footage of the Green shooting helped dispel false rumors.
“The word on the street was we shot an unarmed man lying in his bed,” Chitwood said. “In some ways, the public got to see what the officer went up against.”
Green survived multiple gunshots Sept. 25, 2013, after police say they opened fire in the Magnolia Avenue home to keep Green from killing his girlfriend, who he had in a chokehold with one arm and a knife in his other hand above the woman’s chest. Records show Green, who has yet to go to trial, remains in the Volusia County Branch Jail without bail on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and kidnapping.
Santiago said he originally filed a bill in response to legislation filed in December by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, that would’ve required Florida law enforcement agencies to use body cameras.
Jones said the cameras can protect the police and people from making false allegations against one another.
In a subcommittee workshop, changes to Jones’ bill meant body cameras would not be required, but agencies that choose to use them must have a set of rules in place.
Santiago said he and Jones have since decided to combine their efforts. The plan is for Santiago, who withdrew his original bill, to file a motion to strike the text from Jones’ bill and replace it with the original language of Santiago’s.
A Florida Senate bill — filed by the Criminal Justice Committee and senators Christopher Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando — seeks to exempt the same kinds of police body camera recordings from public record.
Bob Shaw, vice chairman of the First Amendment Foundation’s Board of Trustees, said the foundation is studying the bill to determine his organization’s position.
“Ideally, I think we need to have police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, First-Amendment specialists and privacy advocates come together to talk through these issues,” Shaw, a former newspaper editor, said.
Shaw said one of the foundation’s concerns is that legislation may be rushed through without enough examination.
Santiago said rules regarding the recordings as public records need to be put in place “before something serious happens.”
“You don’t want people who are being investigated to have access to things that are pertinent to the investigation,” Santiago said.
The Daytona Beach Police Department and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which both use body cameras, each have rules on the books regarding the use of body cameras.
According to the Daytona Beach Police Department’s standards directive regarding use of body cameras, footage “has been used to clear officers during complaints, collect evidence during police investigations, and has given the public a sense of better officer accountability.”
The cameras are to be used during traffic stops, pursuits, vehicle searches, confrontational citizen contacts, use-of-force situations, statements made by subjects and witnesses, statements made by victims of crime after consent is obtained, advising an individual of their Miranda warnings, during interviews (consent must be obtained in victim interviews), during investigations of criminal acts and interviews and any other legitimate law enforcement contacts.
The cameras are not to be used to record any deaths for crime scene purposes (unless directed by a supervisor), be used to record personal activity, intentionally activated to record conversations of fellow employees without their knowledge during routine, non-enforcement related activities or used to intentionally or willingly record confidential informants or undercover officers.
Chitwood said he believes there’s a happy medium somewhere in what Santiago would like to see become law.
“As police, if we have a legal right to be somewhere, we have a legal right to record it,” Chitwood said.
Original article here.