State Politics

Florida police camera advocates to push for state funding in 2016

In the wake of nationwide protests over police violence in the past year — most recently in Baltimore — some lawmakers set out this session with the goal of increasing the number of Florida police officers wearing body cameras.

The fruits of their labor: A bill passed by the House and Senate will make some videos captured on camera exempt from public disclosure.

It’s a move some body camera supporters say will encourage more Florida police departments and sheriff’s offices to implement the technology, widely embraced by law enforcement agencies and their critics as a way to introduce more accountability and solid evidence. Open-government advocates aren’t convinced, saying all body camera video should be easily accessible to members of the public and press.

Still, the larger agenda for people like Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, is to put a camera on every officer in the state. Several agencies, including the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department have already started using cameras.

To get every officer wearing a camera will take time.

Jones’ attempt this year to equip every agency with cameras fell flat fast as lawmakers instead opted for language requiring that local agencies choosing to implement cameras set up clear policies for privacy, data retention and when the cameras should be worn and turned on. That bill passed the House unanimously but was never taken up by senators.

So Jones has started looking to next spring’s session, when he hopes to find a way for more police officers to wear the cameras, even if Florida can’t afford to equip every agency in the state.

“I would want to look at whether or not the state would entertain maybe allowing agencies to apply for some type of grant funding,” he said.

Police departments across the state have expressed interest in trying out the cameras, Jones said, but many want the state to help them fund pilot programs.

“I want to see what’s the possibility of letting some of the agencies try it out,” he said. “I think it’s worth a shot."