Proving complaints against police officers can be nearly impossible — a he-said, she-said situation pitting cop versus suspect almost always ends in favor of the police. That's one reason so many forces are adopting body cameras.
But Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an independent city board that looks into complaints about cops, has another idea. The panel is now asking the city’s fire-rescue workers to take photos of injured people who are treated and later arrested or detained.
"When somebody has been bumped or bruised and we don’t have recent photographic evidence, it is very unfair to the complainant and very unfair to the police officer," CIP chairman Horacio Stuart Aguirre says.
CIP often receives complaints from people claiming to have been manhandled or roughed up during contact with police. But most of those complaints are closed without a finding, CIP officials say, because there's rarely any evidence of the supposed injuries.
If firefighters took photos of injuries — or the lack thereof — the panel could much more easily prove or disprove complaints. "The complainant wants justice, vindication, and the truth exposed," Aguirre says, "and the police officer wants the truth to come out if he or she didn’t do it."
But firefighters are already balking at the idea. City of Miami Fire Chief Maurice Kemp says he finds the proposal problematic.
"That’s not something the fire department can do for a variety of reasons. We don’t have a designated photographer, and beyond that, there’s all kinds of HIPAA concerns," Kemp says, referring to medical privacy laws. "It’s not a practical thing to do."
Kemp says he respects the role of the CIP but was not included in any discussions about the resolution. He says he learned of idea only when he was contacted by New Times.
"It's fraught with problems," he says. "I don't feel that that's our role."
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But Aguirre says taking a few photos wouldn't put an undue burden on firefighters. He envisions individual fire-rescue responders simply taking photos with their county-issued cell phones. He stressed that CIP members don’t want rescue personnel to abandon their more important duties, but simply to take a few photos when it's possible.
"If two fire-rescue people show up and somebody’s having a heart attack, we certainly don’t expect a first responder to pause and pick up their camera," Aguirre says.
As for Kemp's medical privacy concerns, Aguirre says the photos would be released only with the permission of the complainant.
The CIP's resolution isn't binding — it's only a recommendation. A copy has been forwarded to the city manager, who has the ability to implement it, Aguirre says.