Body Cameras Bill Heading To House Floor

Apr 15, 2015

Rep. Shevrin Jones speaking before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Credit Florida Channel

A bill requiring law enforcement agencies to have set guidelines in place when using body cameras is now heading to the House floor. It differs from a measure creating a public records exemption for the recordings.

Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) is the bill’s House sponsor.

“This bill creates a new section of statute requiring law enforcement agencies that currently permit law enforcement officers to wear body cameras to create rules and regulations for the maintenance and storage for the body cameras. This bill also requires law enforcement agencies to retain the body cameras’ recording data in compliance with statute 119.21 and to perform periodic reviews of agency practices to ensure compliance with the agency’s policies and procedures,” said Jones, during the bill's last hearing, Tuesday.

Since the bill was filed in early December, Jones admits the measure has gone through quite a few changes—and there are now two separate bills related to body cameras in the Senate.

That confused a lot of Florida lawmakers, who’ve only seen Jones’ bill in the House. But, he promised the House would soon get a chance to see the other Senate bill providing a public records exemption for body camera recordings done by law enforcement.

“In the beginning of the bill’s creation, the bill was starting off as a mandate, and then when a strike-all took place over in the Senate, it totally had both bills running in totally different directions: one with the privacy aspect and one with the policy and procedures aspect of it,” explained Jones.

Jones’ measure has the support of law enforcement groups, like the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

It also the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Michelle Richardson, who’s had problems with the body camera bills in past committee stops.

“We think this is a good first step to regulate body camera use in Florida,” said Richardson. “We understand there are two dozen departments who are using, piloting, or considering cameras at this time. And, these sorts of regulations will make sure there’s clarity for officers, that the public will be on notice about when they will be recorded, that the departments will consider privacy factors, and that the public and this body will be able to conduct oversight over how these cameras are used.”

She says this House bill is a much better alternative than the Senate bill that attempts to address privacy concerns.

“We think this is a better alternative to SB 248,” added Richardson. “There is not a House partner to that bill. We understand it will be sent over here. But, the ACLU and 19 other civil rights organizations in Florida oppose that approach. We’d rather you would start with something with HB 57, which is a softer touch and allows for more oversight and accountability of what is captured by those cameras.”

While lawmakers support the House bill, some, like Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), still had some privacy concerns.

“I do appreciate the voluntary nature of this and also the ability to set up the policies so that everybody is apprised ahead of time what the policies and procedures are,” said Harrell. “I still have some concerns about the privacy issues. I look forward to seeing SB 248, and want to make sure all privacy is protected under this.”

And, Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) agreed.

“I would add I’ve been in very close contact with my Sheriff at my Sheriff’s department, and considerations about how much expenditures to do the department would have to take place in order to accommodate a broad exposure of privacy concerns is a consideration for them as well. So, I think this will have cost implications as well,” said Gonzalez.

Still, Jones says the bill is still heading in the right direction.

“It has been a long time coming with the bill,” said Jones. “Yes, this is not the end-all be-all for it, but I will assure you that there is a lot of research taking place. And, by Florida taking the lead on this, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

And, the measure passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously Tuesday—sending the measure to the floor. Meanwhile, its Senate companion has one more committee stop before it heads to the floor. And, after getting teed up on the floor Tuesday, the Senate’s body camera public records exemption bill is slated for a vote next week.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.