Miami Beach Police First in South Florida to Officially Adopt Body Cameras

In the wake of mass protests in Cleveland, Ferguson, and Baltimore, cops nationwide have scrambled for ways to better police themselves. Body cameras have quickly emerged as a consensus choice to add clarity to the often muddy waters that follow a fatal police shooting. Miami-Dade is no different — the past year, every major police force in the county has pledged to varying degrees to equip officers with cameras.

But it's the Miami Beach Police Department that is now the first force to follow through on those promises. In a letter sent to police staff last week, Chief Dan Oates announced the cameras are now official department policy.

"The 'pilot' phase of the Body Worn Camera (BWC) project has ended. The use of BWCs is now the official policy of the Department, with universal deployment our ultimate goal," Oates writes in his letter.

To date, MBPD has 70 cameras on the street. But Oates says he expects the force to move quickly toward equipping every Beach cop with a camera.

"We are beginning a period of significant expansion, with six additional patrol squads to be trained and equipped with cameras in the next month or so," Oates writes.

The Miami-Dade Police Department — the largest in South Florida — and the Miami Police Department have also begun moving toward body cameras. But both are far from getting those cameras to officers.

MDPD won a million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help pay for body cameras, but the program's details are still being hammered out in the Miami-Dade County Commission. An agenda item on the cameras is sitting in committee.

"If approved by the county commission, it would result in 1,000 body-worn cameras for MDPD before the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30," says Michael Hernandez, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The county has already allocated $5 million over the next five years for the camera program, Hernandez says.

As for the City of Miami Police Department, it has been testing 50 cameras on the street since this past fall. But MPD's police union hasn't been shy about tearing into the program in the media, calling it "reckless." An MPD spokesperson hasn't returned messages from New Times about the status of that agency's pilot program.

On Miami Beach, the cameras are now set to be a part of daily life for cops. Oates writes in his memo that officers will now be required to film every interaction with the public and call to service.

"We are looked to as the leaders in Miami-Dade County on body worn cameras," Oates writes. "Other agencies are visiting us regularly, copying our policy and practices, and studying our technology in an effort to duplicate what we have accomplished."

(H/T to Random Pixels)
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink