Why Volusia County sheriff quickly releases bodycam video

FDLE also investigates Volusia County officer-involved shootings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Less than 100 miles south of Jacksonville, where people are demanding the release of body camera footage recorded by officers during police-involved shootings, Volusia County’s sheriff has shown success quickly making public such footage from his department.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood told the I-TEAM that he has been able to build trust in his community by releasing the video whether it reflects the deputies involved in a positive light or not. He also doesn’t think it has interfered with the investigations of such shootings -- the concern expressed by Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and District Attorney Melissa Nelson.

Last month, Chitwood released both body-worn camera and aerial video of the fatal police-involved shooting of Gregory Howe within 48 hours of the incident. Deputies said they returned fire after Howe fired at them with a shotgun.

Deputy-involved shooting: 5/12/20

*WARNING: Contains video footage of a fatal shooting* Body camera and Air One video footage of this week’s deputy-involved shooting of an armed suspect in Deltona is provided here. The video begins with footage of the traffic stop conducted on Gregory Howe by a DeLand police officer. After Howe flees the traffic stop, the video transitions to footage recorded by the Sheriff’s Office Air One helicopter, followed by footage from two deputies who were involved and had body cameras recording during the incident. At this point in the investigation of the shooting, based on physical evidence, witness accounts and video, we believe Howe leveled a Kel-Tec KSG tactical shotgun at deputies and fired one time. Howe’s shotgun was recovered from inside his truck and was discovered to have been loaded with 13 rounds, 1 of which had been discharged. During the approximately 10 seconds of gunfire, four deputies fired 82 times, striking Howe multiple times and resulting in fatal injury. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of the shooting is ongoing. Again, all the information provided by the Sheriff’s Office is preliminary and based on the information available at this time, prior to us interviewing the deputies involved.

Posted by Volusia Sheriff's Office on Thursday, May 14, 2020

“In a police shooting, how is it going to impede investigation when you’re seeing everything that’s there -- what you see in the body cam video?” Chitwood said. “It’s a statement the officers are going to give two, three, four months later. It’s the statements the witnesses are going to (give) anyway, So put it out there. even if it’s bad.”

That’s been Chitwood’s philosophy on police-worn cameras since 2012, first as Daytona Beach Police Chief and now Volusia County sheriff. He has mandated that all deputies wear body cameras and the cameras have to remain on-- a mandate Chitwood said was originally met with opposition from state attorneys and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Chitwood said crime statistics eventually revealed progress, bridging the gap with the community his department serves.

“That first year that we went all-body camera, complaints against police dropped by 90%. That’s the confidence that the community had,” Chitwood said. “Even when people had a complaint and they came in and viewed the body camera video and ... say, ‘Well, that’s not how I perceive what happened.‘”

How does his department handle releasing body camera video that clearly shows his deputies violating police department standards and procedures?

″If it was a really horrible shooting and I know it will spark public outrage, I think I would hold off and try to build some coalition to help defuse some of the violence,” Chitwood said. “For instance, go out and meet with pastors and coalitions and folks like that so that when I do release the video publicly, I have those folks standing behind me. So OK, there was a mistake. This was a horrible video. Here’s what we are going to do going forward.”

There is another big difference between the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in the handling of officer-involved shootings: the FDLE investigates such incidents in Volusia County where the JSO investigates its own once the state attorney rules on whether or not the shooting was legally justifiable, although VCSO also does an internal investigation.

Chitwood said he does not support putting citizens on a Police Review Board, another frequent request by people looking for transparency in police use-of-force incidents and other complaints. Chitwood said being transparent and releasing body camera footage goes a long way in putting credit in your bank account, so to speak. So in the case of an unjustified police-involved shooting, the community realizes one bad police shooting isn’t reflective of the department’s history.

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