It's official. Body cameras will be rolled out at the Miami-Dade County Police Department by the end of the year. Yesterday, the county commission endorsed a measure to spend $5 million over the next five years to fit officers with tiny cameras that will record their interactions with the public.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez included $1 million in his planned 2015 county budget even weeks before protests against the police erupted in Ferguson, Missouri. After that, the issue of police body cameras became a much-discussed issue, and Gimenez retained his support (though the police union has balked at the idea). With the commission's approval, the county will soon begin soliciting bids from vendors.
Though those initial 500 cameras will be in use by the end of the year, there will be enough to supply only a small fraction of the department's more than 2,600 officers. However, the plan endorsed yesterday calls for eventually procuring 1,500 cameras over the next year. According to the Miami Herald, about 1,200 patrol officers are regularly out in the field interacting with the public. Another 1,000 officers, including detectives and tactical officers, also are out in public at times.
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Incidentally, commissioners also OK'ed a measure from Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz to instruct the mayor's office to prepare a report looking at ways to increase the number of Miami-Dade officers. The department's total number of officers is down 10 percent from a high in 2000, though that was before the cities of Doral and Miami Gardens started their own police forces. The crime rate was also higher in 2000.
In any event, the body cameras will be worn by officers at all times, but they will not record video continuously. The camera will always capture sound (though that sound is not guaranteed to be saved). An officer is required to activate the camera when he or she interacts with a member of the public unless the citizen asks the officer not to. Officers will also not activate the cameras in certain situations in people's homes and in hospitals. These guidelines are mainly in compliance with those suggested by the American Civil Liberties Union. Once activated, the cameras preserve the last half-minute of recorded sound and begin recording video as well.
Proponents of body cameras say they will increase police accountability. Some law enforcement officers also say recordings can clear up potential misguided outrage at officers when there are two sides to a story. However, the two commissioners who voted against the plan noted that one recording from one angle cannot always tell the full story.
The police departments of the City of Miami and Miami Beach have also begun outfitting officers with body cameras.