Miami Beach is no stranger to contentious claims of police abuse, from the case of an allegedly drunken officer joyriding on an ATV to multiple fatal shootings. Now, Beach officers -- for better and for worse -- will catch all those incidents on film. Thanks to a 6-1 vote at the city commission last night, Beach cops, parking officials and code compliance officers will all be wired with mobile video cameras.
Sgt. Alex Bello, president of MBPD's union, says officers will push back against the plan for 24-7 video coverage. "There is value in that camera as long as it's a tool for the officer and they have the ability to turn it on and off when they deem necessary," he tells Riptide. "But if it's a monitoring device ... there's a problem."
Body-mounted cameras for police have been a national topic of conversation since the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where proponents say the dispute over what happened before an officer fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old could be solved with video footage of the incident.
In Miami Beach, city leaders say they've been looking into the devices for more than a year. "Five, six months ago we started looking in earnest," into vendors and devices, city manager Jimmy Morales tells the Miami Herald.
Supporters of the idea say the video helps protect residents and police by easily resolving he-said-she-said incidents. Beach commissioners agreed, passing Morales' proposal 6-1 last night.
Under the deal, Beach cops will initially get 50 to 60 cameras that clip onto glasses and hats, while code enforcement and parking employees will get five or six cameras each; that initial plan will cost about $600,000 next year. By 2015, every officer will get a camera. In all, the camera deal will cost the city about $2.7 million.
That cost worries Bello as much as the details on how the camera will work. "The cost of $3 million to start, that's about 30 cops we could hire for that money," Bello says. "We could put 30 officers out there more on the streets."
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Bello says he agrees that cameras can help protect police in some instances, but he objects to Chief Dan Oates' plan to keep the film rolling 24-7. He plans to push the department to give officers leeway to shut off the devices.
"At scene of an accident with body parts or a body on the ground, the victim's family doesn't need that recorded for everyone to grab on a records request," he says. "When you call me to your house and you're the victim of a burglary and I'm present taking a report, do you want me there recording all the contents of the house including a safe or other places with valuables? But the chief wants us to record every interaction."
Other Florida departments have already begun wearing cameras, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is pushing a similar deal for MDPD cops, but the Herald reports that Miami Beach may be the first city in Florida to equip parking and code officials with the devices.