JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - While the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office anticipates officers could be wearing body cameras as soon as September, there are still some wrinkles to iron out before the devices go into widespread use.
The Sheriff's Office's body camera program has been in the works for over a year. The agency launched a pilot program to test products from three vendors after several months of town hall meetings beginning in 2017. Now, the agency must decide which cameras officers will wear.
But the agency still needs to reach an agreement with the police union on the policy that will govern the use of body cameras. Specifically, the two sides have to negotiate when officers should switch the cameras off and on, especially during high-profile incidents.
With a police-involved shooting, for instance, Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Zona said the union favors a policy that would allow officers to turn the cameras off once the threat to an officer's life is over. That point remains undecided.
"We have not got to that point yet because there are legal issues involved," said Zona. " ... Because you become a subject of an investigation. You are part of that investigation."
There were no body cameras in use during the latest police-involved shooting. Police said an officer shot and killed a suicidal 52-year-old man Saturday after the man threatened to hurt others and refused repeated orders to drop the knife he was carrying.
In fact, the only body camera footage that has surfaced so far is the leaked video clip from the September 2017 traffic stop of City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who was pulled over on suspicion of driving with a stolen tag. Gaffney was later cleared of wrongdoing.
Since then, the Sheriff's Office and FOP have been working on the rules that officers equipped with the devices will have to follow. But despite the lingering hurdles, both sides contend they are ready to roll out the cameras soon.
"We've had a very good session negotiating with the city back and forth to come up with what we believe will be a fair policy for us and will be a fair policy for the Sheriff's Office and the community," said Zona.
Ben Frazier runs the Northside Coalition, an outspoken activist group that has been critical at times of the Sheriff's Office. He said the Sheriff's Office and police union need to take their time before agreeing on terms and make sure officers are properly trained.
"There is a very real risk that these new devices could become instruments of injustice rather than tools for trust and accountability," said Frazier.
The Sheriff's Office expects to issue roughly 200 body cameras beginning in the first quarter of 2019.
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