New controversy surrounds JSO body camera program

FOP president implores 60 officers not to take part in pilot program

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Controversy has surrounded the pilot program to bring police body cameras to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

The Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona posted on Facebook Tuesday, saying they had filed an unfair labor practice against the city of Jacksonville because it has refused to work with them on policies and procedures of the body cameras. 

Zona posted the message after learning 60 officers had volunteered to take part in the pilot program. In the post, he warned officers that they could legally face discipline, including termination for violating policies that haven't been negotiated. 

The policy on the proposed body cameras has created three major concerns, one of which is privacy, according to Zona. If the sheriff orders all officers to keep cameras recording during their entire shift, Zona said, the officer's personal conversations and information can become public record. 

“Everything on there, minus a few things prescribed by Florida statute, is public record. So any citizen can get that and post it on YouTube -- your family conversation, Facebook, Twitter," Zona told News4Jax. "We’re concerned about those issues."

A second concern raised by Zona is using recorded video to discipline an officer when the officer is at odds with his or her superior.

“Can he go back through six months of your body worn camera to hunt and peck to try and find something wrong you did then write you up for that?" Zona questioned.

He said there’s also unanswered questions about day-to-day procedures while wearing the camera.

“What’s in the policy when they turn it on or turn it off? What are we responsible for? What happens when you don’t follow those procedures?” Zona asked. 

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith explained why there's a debate if the Sheriff’s Office and the FOP both want to use the cameras to protect citizens and officers.

“The sheriff’s main priority is to the citizens. The FOP president, his main concern -- as any union president -- is for the workers. In this case, the police officers. So he wants to make sure they know exactly what’s going on before the officers put on the body-worn cameras," Smith said. 

Because of the concerns raised, News4Jax was told that three of the 60 officers who signed up to take part in the pilot program have backed out, and it's likely more officers will follow suit. 

In response to the FOP, News4Jax obtained a statement from Sheriff Mike Williams, saying, “I am not surprised by the Union’s filing of the ULP claim, given that we’ve asked them to participate in every discussion on this topic and they have chosen not to do so.”

READ: Sheriff Williams’ full statement on unfair labor practice claim

Williams goes on to say, “I want to thank the officers who have volunteered to test the cameras, and appreciate their commitment to advancing the services of the agency.”
The body camera pilot program will begin this summer. 

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