Should body cameras be required for officers?

Local law enforcement share take on benefits, drawbacks to cameras

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Florida lawmaker proposed legislation Thursday that would require body cameras for all Florida police officers primarily assigned to patrol duties. The proposal comes just weeks after a grand jury decided not to indict a Missouri police officer for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama pledged millions of dollars to buy thousands of body cameras for police departments across the nation. 

Local law enforcement officials sounded off about why that may or may not be a good idea.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said he believes body cameras are a good tool for law enforcement officers, just like dashboard cameras or Tasers. In fact, deputies in his department can use them at their own discretion.

But he doesn't think it should be mandatory for the cameras to be on at all times -- for a few reasons.

He showed one to News4Jax -- footage from a Bradford County Sheriff's deputy's body camera showing a child abuse investigation unfolding. A woman on a porch was ready to open up about her friend, who had gone back inside the house. To protect her and the information she has, the deputy turned off his body camera.

Smith said he doubts the woman would have spoken up if she knew she was about to be recorded.

"Now, they're friends, but the one girl wants to help, knows what's right and what's wrong, but they've got to live together, so the officer goes 'click,'" Smith said.

Smith said body cameras have been available to his deputies for years, and they have the choice if they want to use them or not.

He agreed there are benefits to the cameras, but also drawbacks -- like privacy concerns -- if they were to record around the clock .

While Obama is calling for more body cameras to combat distrust between officers and the public -- Smith said simply throwing money at a problem will not fix it.

"It takes communities working together with their local law enforcement, their local ministers, their local educators, to work together to solve these issues in America," Smith said. "Most of it comes down to, basically, education."

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there are two types of body cameras. The one used by the Bradford County Sheriff's Office can be clipped on the officer's shirt and shows what the officer is facing. The other type can be clipped on the hat or glasses.

"If I were still on street patrol, I would have mixed feelings about having a body camera," News4Jax crime and safety expert Gil Smith said.

Smith, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's officer, said he agrees that good can come from officer body cameras, but he also remembers three years ago, when dozens of Jacksonville officers lost their jobs.

"Police officers know that we need more officers on the street. Now, you're going to spend money on body cameras instead of more police officers," Smith said. "They would rather have that money spent on more police officers than body cameras. It would be good to the public to some degree to have more officers out there." 

About the Author: