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Body Cameras Bill Heading To Senate Floor

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An ever-changing measure initially mandating all law enforcement wear body cameras is now heading to the Senate floor, after passing its final committee Thursday.

Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) says after continuing to work with stakeholders, his measure now creates a public records exemption for body camera recordings done by law enforcement.

“The concern you have with this is keeping the privacy of individuals, and what this does is give a public records exemption for videotape taken where you expect privacy,” said Smith. “So, if an officer comes into your home, comes into your hotel room, your hospital rooms, places where you expect privacy, that tape is not public record. However, you as a person on the tape can request the tape and disseminate it or you can even authorize someone else to do it.”

Under his bill, law enforcement would be required to retain the recording for at least 90 days. Smith says the measure also allows for a third party, like a media organization, to get the video as well.

“If you’re a third party, you can go to court, and we put some language in there for the court to look at to see whether that third party should get that private video,” added Smith.

Still, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Michelle Richardson says even though the bill contains some good elements, the ACLU is against the measure.

“In its final form, we still think the exemptions are too broad. They could potentially be used to hide evidence of police-abuser discrimination. And, that the court provision in here now is so heavily weighted in favor of law enforcement, that it’ll be incredibly hard for members of the public or advocacy organizations or press to ever see the video, even when there are serious allegations of abuse or discrimination or unconstitutional policing.”

But, some lawmakers along with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri representing the Florida Sheriffs Association took issue with Richardson’s comments.

“Largely the court order section though really is not applying to law enforcement,” said Gualtieri. “The last speaker mentioned that it favors law enforcement. It doesn’t! What that section, I believe, is most applicable to is a situation where you’ve got two people in a place…let’s say it’s a residence and there’s a domestic and it’s a family law litigation case. And, one wants to go in and get it and the other one wants to oppose it…that’s for the parties to argue before the court that really don’t apply to law enforcement. Law enforcement is not going to be using this offensively to keep it secret. We’re going to rely on the existing exceptions and favor transparency.”

And, Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) questioned Gualtieri on what could happen if the bill doesn’t become law.

“Sheriff, do you think law enforcement agencies would be more encouraged to have body cameras if this bill should pass,” asked Soto.

“Absolutely, and if it doesn’t pass, it’s going to discourage use for a lot of reasons, and I think this is essential to having wider use of body cameras in the state of Florida,” Gualtieri replied.

Other supporters of the measure include the Florida Police Benevolent Association as well as the Florida Public Defenders Association. Opponents include the Florida chapter of the NAACP.

And, Smith says there may be more changes as the bill moves forward as he continues to work with stakeholders. And, the measure passed the Senate Rules committee unanimously.

Meanwhile, a similar bill in the House by  Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) has one more committee stop to go before it heads to the floor.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.