Two bills moving through the Florida Legislature encourage local law enforcement agencies to add body cameras to their uniforms, a practice that would protect both police officers and the public they serve.
But the bills are not identical and the wrong version — the one that would make it extremely difficult for people to ever see these videos — is taking the lead.
Today, the Florida House may waive its rules to consider the disappointing bill that passed the Florida Senate on Wednesday. We encourage the Florida House to stick to its guns, and remember why people support the addition of body cameras to police uniforms.
The goal is to protect police officers from wrongful accusations of excessive force and to help citizens see what happened in the event that a police encounter goes bad.
And if everyone knows a camera is rolling, might they not try to remain on their best behavior?
What good does it do if no one ever, or hardly ever, sees these videos?
It’s hard to understand the reasoning of state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, whose bill would hide body-camera recordings taken inside a private residence, a medical facility or at places where a “reasonable person” would expect privacy, which covers a lot of cases.
Think about it. If rescue workers are called to the scene of a shooting, the police video of what preceded their arrival could now never come to light.
The bill also requires judges to consider whether releasing a video would cause harm to the reputation of anyone in the video, including cops, or reveal personal information of someone in the video. So what’s the point?
Think about the videos you’ve seen recently that involve police shootings. How many might harm an officer’s reputation? Yet by releasing the video, how many might call the question of whether better training, better supervision and stricter hiring practices are needed?
Smith says he’s trying to balance privacy rights with public interests and that he doesn’t want videos from someone’s home to wind up on YouTube. But this is 2015, and police departments across the country have figured out guidelines to address privacy rights. Many are using software programs that blur out images, including faces. But as other departments follow the trend, Smith’s bill would place handcuffs on a tool meant to enhance the public’s trust.
House Bill 57, by contrast, would take a step back and give law enforcement agencies a little more time to work out the kinks. It would direct departments already using body cameras to create policies for their use and the storage of videos. It also would let local departments — rather than the individual officer — determine when cameras should be turned on and how long video evidence must be kept if beyond the 90 days required by the bill.
HB 57 deserves passage.
But Thursday, House leaders instead agreed to place the Senate’s version on the Special Order agenda for floor debate today.
Sometimes, if a good bill cannot be passed, the best course of action is to stop something bad from happening, and that is what House members should do today.
The public expects videos of police interactions to be made available, absent enormous and expensive legal hoops.
Body cameras are no silver bullet, but they allow another layer of accountability. However, if people can rarely see what happened, they are a useless tool.
The House should table the Senate’s bill and stick with its own better version.
We need more cameras on cops to help police the police. We need more cameras on cops to protect good cops doing a tough job. The public deserves to know we hand out badges, guns and the authority to use lethal force to the right officers, and placing body cameras on their uniforms helps get us there.
Original article here.