Across the nation, the August 9 shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri provoked angry calls for cops to wear body cameras.
Here in South Florida, Miami-Dade and Miami Beach cops quickly announced they were on board with the idea. But the Miami Police Department, perhaps the state's most troubled agency, was silent on the issue.
Until now. Assistant chief Rodolfo Llanes tells New Times that Miami PD will begin testing body cams in the next couple of weeks.
Under the pilot program, 50 Miami Police officers will be equipped with body cameras. The University of South Florida will then help the department analyze the video footage.
After a year-long trial, MPD will decide whether to expand or discontinue the body cam program.
(This appears to be a similar program to one recently announced by Orlando Police, also in conjunction with USF.)
The Miami Police pilot program is still a much more cautious move than steps already taken in Miami Beach. The island's new police chief, Dan Oates, recently called body cameras "a force that can't be stopped."
Miami Beach is also equipping 50 cops with body cameras in October, although the department already appears committed to expanding the program.
"In five years every cop in America is going to be wearing a body camera," Oates told CBS.
Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez is equally keen on the technology, which is supported by more than two-thirds of Miamians. Gimenez has proposed buying 500 body cams for roughly $1 million, although his idea faces union opposition.
Compared to other local departments, Miami PD has moved more cautiously. The department's reluctance is curious considering the criticism it has received for excessive force, exactly the type of abuse critics say will be reduced through cop cameras.
On July 9, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report into a string of 33 suspects in less than four years by Miami Police. Seven black men were shot by MPD officers during one eight month period. Two of the shootings were deemed unjustified.
Assistant chief Llanes said that his department's decision to test the technology was not tied to any specific case.
"Chief Orosa tasked me over 18 months ago to look at a viable system for recording police-citizen interactions," he said. "This was after many meetings with a coalition of community organizations that thought that it would be a valuable step for the department to take.
"NAACP, ACLU, PULSE and others they all suggested that we look at different ways to improve our image and trust within the community," Llanes added. "They pushed in car cameras, however internally we thought that on body would be a better solution for urban policing."
Llanes said Miami PD would also test out dashboard cameras in the coming year.
"There are plenty of opinions out there about videotaping police-citizen contacts ... but a lack of true empirical data," he said.
"We wanted facts in order to make informed decisions about spending tax payer dollars," Llanes said. "This is a very expensive proposition and sustainability of a program through difficult financial times is a big concern."
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