Miami Police Still Aren't Wearing Their Body Cameras

When an audit revealed in mid-December that many Miami Police officers weren't wearing their department-issued body cameras or downloading the footage, Police Chief Rudy Llanes told New Times he was ready to get to the bottom of the issue. But, much like Marco Rubio, he said he needed more information first about why the $1.3 million equipment, paid for by taxpayers and a Department of Justice grant, wasn't being used.

"We have to contact each supervisor to provide an explanation for why no videos were downloaded," he said at the time. "I'm concerned. I just need to know what really happened."

Just one week after the chief promised to look into the matter, though, reports indicate two of Llanes' officers failed to activate their cameras during a trespassing arrest. The man later filed a complaint saying he had been falsely arrested, but because Officers Josterly Mitial and Moline Innocent didn't record the incident, the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) was unable to investigate properly.

A summary written by the CIP — an independent police-oversight board staffed with its own investigators — says it was the second known incident in which officers with the Little Haiti Problem Solving Team have failed to use their cameras while making arrests.

"It prevents us from exonerating the officers," CIP director Cristina Beamud says. "It works to their detriment not to use these cameras."

The CIP has had a long-standing battle with MPD over its body-worn cameras. Late last year, after finally receiving a list of which officers had been assigned the cameras, the CIP made a public-records request to see whether the officers were downloading their footage as required by policy. Disturbingly, the audit revealed that more than three-quarters of them were not doing so.

In recent weeks, Beamud says, MPD has struggled to answer even the basic question of who has a camera. After receiving three complaints about officers whose names were on the body-cam list, CIP investigators requested footage of the incidents. Puzzlingly, the police department asserted it could not provide the videos because three of the officers on the list actually did not have cameras.

Confused by the response, the CIP pressed for an answer: Was the list wrong, or was the police department mistaken? After weeks of back-and-forth, the police department said it had goofed — the list was correct after all.

In the end, CIP investigators barely got any footage out of the whole exchange. The department turned over footage from just one of the three officers. One of the officers hadn't recorded video of the incident in question, while the other was working off-duty at the time, so there was no explicit requirement to do so.

"These incidents took us a considerable amount of effort just to determine whether or not (1) the officer had a body camera and (2) whether there was footage associated with the arrests," Beamud says.

This week, New Times asked Llanes why officers were still struggling to comply with the department's body-cam policy, which has been around since 2015. Llanes' assistant chief of administration, Ron Papier, responded instead.

Papier says the police department is in the process of starting random checks on body-camera usage and disciplining officers who don't comply with policy.

"I can say that we just recently called in every single officer who has a camera and retrained them on how to use the cameras," he says.

Beginning Sunday, the assistant chief says, MPD will assign a compliance officer to do spot checks on officers with body cameras to make sure they are wearing them, using them to record their activities, and downloading the footage as required. Papier declined to give the name of the compliance officer because he expects other officers might occasionally fill in while the main compliance officer is on vacation.

"Today it might be Officer X; tomorrow it might be Officer B. The more important issue is there is a position where an officer will be in charge of compliance," Papier says.

Although current policy isn't clear about whether officers should wear their cameras to off-duty assignments, Papier says he expects the department will move in that direction once all officers have been fitted with a camera. So far, only about 80 have been issued the recording devices.

"Down the line, I think we will have it where all officers working in uniform will be wearing a body-worn camera," he says.

Papier provided two recent examples of internal discipline to show that the department takes the situation seriously. In both cases, officers with cameras failed to record use-of-force incidents that later required review. The two cops were given verbal counseling, according to disciplinary memos. (Papier says it's possible that more officers have been disciplined about body cameras, but those reports weren't immediately available.) Although MPD's policy says supervisors can be disciplined if their subordinates don't use their body cameras, the assistant chief said he was unaware of any who'd been given a reprimand.

In the meantime, the CIP was unable to sustain the three complaints of misconduct by Miami Police officers. Investigators have recommended that the officers be sanctioned for failing to use their cameras.
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Jessica Lipscomb is news editor of Miami New Times and an enthusiastic Florida Woman. Born and raised in Orlando, she has been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
Contact: Jessica Lipscomb