Privacy among key issues in Jacksonville body camera debate

Sheriff's Office, police union split on when cameras should be switched off

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office tests out body cameras, the back-and-forth negotiations over which policies should govern their use continues between the city and police union.

When the cameras should be switched on and off, and who should make that call, are among the questions that the two sides are currently grappling with.

Those questions were a source of debate during contract talks Friday, the latest in several sessions intended to iron out any wrinkles before body cameras become mandatory.

“If you were dispatched to a call, it goes on. If it’s a traffic stop, it goes on. If it’s a vehicle pursuit, it goes on,” said Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The police union volunteered those guidelines, Zona said, because “we believe in that transparency.”

Derrel Chatmon, senior assistant general counsel for the city, said the Sheriff’s Office believes that officers should always have the cameras rolling, but noted there are challenges with that approach.

“There is footage issues, there is cost issues that we have to take into consideration,” Chatmon said.

There was also talk of privacy concerns, particularly when children are involved. The Sheriff’s Office suggested officers should oblige if a citizen asks that the body camera be turned off.

The union disagrees on that point.

“We say let the cameras roll,” Zona said. “You don’t have the right to turn them off, except for a number of enumerated privacy issues that are going to be in the policy.”

The cameras stayed on during the traffic stop last September of Councilman Reginald Gaffney, who was pulled over for a questionable license plate. That stop led to no charges, but it produced the first body camera footage released by the agency since it started trying them out.

The Sheriff’s Office has been trying out body camera products from different vendors since beginning its first phase of a pilot program last July. The pilot program equips roughly 30 officers with the devices. Sheriff Mike Williams has budgeted $1.3 million for the program.

Later this month, the Sheriff’s Office and union are expected to return to the bargaining table. But the pilot program is anticipated to continue throughout the year.

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