Miami Beach Fits Police, Parking and Code Enforcement Officers With Body Cameras

photo courtesy of Axon

Everyone knows parking in Miami Beach is a nightmare. You can waste hours of your life circling for a precious curbside spot, only to have your horrendous parallel-parking skills cause a miniature traffic jam when you finally do come across a space. And God forbid your phone dies before it's time to renew your parking session.

It's understandable that the whole process could send you into a Britt McHenry-style tirade. But next time you catch a city employee slipping a ticket underneath your wipers, keep your cool: Miami Beach's parking enforcement officers are now filming their day-to-day encounters thanks to a citywide body camera rollout.

The initiative, which passed a city commission vote back in 2014, covers police officers and civilian employees. So far, 150 Miami Beach cops and about 60 parking enforcement employees have been given cameras. Code enforcement officers have begun to wear the cams to document violations, while the fire department has been instructed to wear them during nightclub inspections.

At the time of the vote, Commissioner Michael Grieco said the cameras would give some level of protection to employees such as parking enforcement officers, who frequently deal with combative residents.

“I had to break up a fight between a parking official and a customer,” he said. “They deal with angry people all the time. They get spit on. They get hit.”

The initiative, which was introduced after a 2012 FBI probe into several city code enforcement officers and fire inspectors accused of taking kickbacks from South Beach nightclubs, is also intended to curb public corruption by adding some transparency to those jobs.

The rollout will cost the city an estimated $2.7 million but is expected to improve accountability. Already, the city reports the cameras "have been useful in improving the performance of employees as well as the conduct of the community members who are recorded."

The initiative isn't without controversy, though. Groups such as the ACLU warn against the practice of mandating body cameras for civilian employees. Unlike police officers, other employees don't have the authority to arrest or use deadly force against residents, meaning the bar should be lower for them, the groups say.

"The strong oversight function that body cameras promise to play with regards to police officers makes that deployment of the technology a unique one," the ACLU writes. "For other officials, the use of body cameras does not strike the right balance between the oversight function of these cameras and their potential intrusiveness."

Although Miami Beach was one of the first cities to propose putting cameras on civilian employees, others have since followed suit. Parking officers in New Canaan, Connecticut, were issued body cams last summer, and smaller cities such as Easton, Pennsylvania, have also debated the move.

Now if only we could get body cams on tow truck employees.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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