County Claims Dashcams for Miami-Dade Cops Are Too Expensive

In 2014, Miami-Dade County Police abandoned a technology called ShotSpotter, which detects gunshots using microphones, after the department claimed the technology didn't work. Then, last September, MDPD decided to spend up to $5 million on ShotSpotter a second time, without mentioning that the technology failed the first time.

That fiasco is relevant again because at next Tuesday's county commission meeting, the county will release a report about the costs of outfitting every MDPD cruiser with dashboard cameras. An audit showed that adding the cameras and associated equipment would cost roughly $8.5 million — too high a price, MDPD argues, because the department already has a body-camera program.

"Due to the limited field of view, duplication of video already being captured by the BWC [body-worn cameras], and higher associated costs, MDPD recommends that the DC [dashcam] program not be considered for implementation," the report says.

That's a curious position considering how quickly the county was ready to drop millions on ShotSpotter a few months ago. And it's even less defensible considering the actual scope of MDPD's body cams.

According to the county website, MDPD has roughly 2,900 sworn officers — but only 1,306 body cameras. The majority of county cops don't wear any sort of recording device. Among those who do, it's unclear whether their footage has been stored correctly. New Times has reported that City of Miami officers have been caught not wearing their mandatory cameras multiple times since November.

Plus, unlike ShotSpotter, dashcams definitely work. They've worked for decades. They improve public trust in law enforcement and are often used to exonerate officers in misconduct cases.

Multiple studies have shown that dashcams can provide different vantage points, which sometimes illustrate encounters better than body cameras. A 2016 New York Times project showed that body cameras are great at capturing audio and intricate hand movements from close encounters, but they're awful at illustrating things such as fistfights or fleeing suspects. The Times found that body cameras can't really tell the difference between fighting or dancing, for example. But dashcams can.

Body cameras also don't show if a cop reaches for his or her gun. You can't see a cop's waistband unless you have a dashcam.

The county's report claims a single dashcam will cost $4,300 to $4,700, plus $100,000 in fees for data storage and unit installation. MDPD says it would need 1,800 cameras, hence the $8.5 million figure. The cameras also require data storage: Though the county says a 96-terabyte server could cost $100,000, it admits cloud data storage could run as low as $3.60 per year. (MDPD's body-camera program uses cloud-based storage.) The county says it would take 21 months to equip its fleet with cameras.

The report admits that 94 percent of respondents in a national study conducted by the International Associaton of Chiefs of Police and U.S. Department of Justice said they want cops to have dashcams. That report also said that most departments like having the dashcams but that agencies do report that storing all the data can be a hurdle.

The idea that a single dashcam could cost a minimum of $4,300 also seems dubious, especially because some cops in other Miami-area departments actually rig their own dashcam setups for themselves simply because they like having their own video footage. One City of Miami cop, Marcel Jackson, accidentally filmed himself beating up a fellow cop with his own personal dashcam in 2014.

The county, meanwhile, says that of 626,625 calls for service (the time period was unspecified, but the data came from a 2014 report), only 54,313 calls — 8.67 percent — occurred within a dashcam's field of vision. The county claims that too few calls occur under the eye of a dashcam to justify buying them — but 54,313 incidents is no small number. Plus, even more incidents are caught on dashcam audio, as the county report cedes.

Given the fact that not every cop on the force has a body camera, there's nothing stopping MDPD from buying, say, a few hundred dashcams and distributing them to their cops either.

The county commission will consider MDPD's dashcam report the same day the department will ask for $10 million to buy a new fleet of police cruisers, SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.