We live in an age when everything we do can be recorded and played back repeatedly.
That lesson was brought home by the horrific cellphone video of South Carolina resident Walter Scott being shot to death while fleeing from a police officer. The video undoubtedly led to the officer being charged with murder.
Locally, we recently had a more absurd example of video being taken of law enforcement when former Gainesville City Commission candidate Lucas Jewell was pulled over by an armored vehicle. He was upset the military vehicle was being driven through local neighborhoods and had allegedly given the middle finger to the Alachua County sheriff’s deputies inside.
While the examples are quite different, they share at least one lesson: that law enforcement officers face a new level of scrutiny due to video being able to be taken by cellphones and other ubiquitous electronic devices.
It makes more sense for police to formalize this level of scrutiny through body cameras, rather than leave the possibility of their actions being recorded by happenstance and possibly selectively edited.
Currently, 13 Florida cities use body cameras and another nine departments have pilot programs to test them, according to a state legislative analysis.
Law enforcement agencies in Ocala and Marion County are farther along in pursuing the idea than in Alachua County and Gainesville. Law enforcement officials here told The Sun last week that they are considering the devices but not planning on getting them soon.
As Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said, body cameras aren’t going to solve any issues of trust that exist between the community and law enforcement. Local law enforcement officials and community members must continue ongoing efforts to built that trust.
They include the continued training of officers to de-escalate crisis situations when dealing with mentally ill individuals and efforts to reduce disproportionate minority arrests. Using military vehicles in inappropriate situations only increases tension between the community and residents.
Body cameras are a way for law enforcement officers to show they’re transparent and accountable. While there are certainly issues such as cost and storage of videos to be worked out, it makes more sense for there to be an official video record of police actions rather than hope for unreliable cellphone videos to surface when something bad happens.
To make body cameras work, the public and media must have access to the videos that they take. Unfortunately state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has sponsored a bill that would exempt those videos from state public records law.
The bill, SB 248, was thankfully amended last week to remove a restriction on videos of medical emergencies. But the measure is still too broad in creating exemptions for video taken in hospitals or private homes, among other places.
The killing of Walter Scott is the latest evidence that body cameras are necessary and inevitable. Local law enforcement agencies should embrace the technology, while state lawmakers should ensure the video recorded is publicly available with very limited exceptions.
Original article here.