Thursday, May 11, 2017
Jacksonville Police Union, Sheriff’s Office, square off on body camera policy (T-U)
(Photo credit: The New York Times)
Jacksonville working the issue. But controversial St. Johns County (Florida) Sheriff DAVID SHOAR opposes body cameras. Why?
Posted May 9, 2017 05:21 pm | Updated May 9, 2017 07:08 pm
By Ben Conarck
Police union, Sheriff’s Office, square off on body camera policy
Fraternal Order of Police 5-30 President Steve Zona (far left) watches with union attorneys as Undersheriff Patrick Ivey (center) responds to questions from the city of Jacksonville’s lawyers. (Ben Conarck/Florida Times-Union)
The future of Jacksonville’s police-worn body camera program was in play on Tuesday.
The high-stakes debate over the equipment unfolded in a cramped meeting room just blocks away from the federal courthouse where much of the local media was camped out awaiting a verdict in the public corruption trial of former congresswoman Corrine Brown.
Back at City Hall, the police union made its case as to why the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office must negotiate body camera policy, rather than unilaterally decide the rules on its own. If it is successful, the union could throw into question the entire timeline of the sheriff’s plan to implement body cameras.
Sheriff Mike Williams said after the hearing that he was disappointed but not surprised by the union complaint.
“This is a challenge, but not an unexpected one,” Williams said. “Progress is necessary, as we move policing to a more transparent profession.”
The state’s Public Employees Relations Commission, which settles union disputes, has never ruled on whether a Florida police department’s implementation of body cameras should trigger mandatory collective bargaining. If PERC decides it does, that would be key in giving police unions throughout the state leverage in crafting body camera policies. In that sense, Jacksonville is a litmus test on that question.
Elsewhere in the country, similar disputes have ended in the union’s favor, according to Gary Lippman, a former police union lawyer who is an expert in body camera policy and labor law.
If Tuesday morning’s discussion was any indication, the decision will hinge on a familiar question for Lippman: whether the police union waived its right to challenge the body camera program by not filing a complaint earlier. The local union filed its complaint in February.
“As long as they raised it within a reasonable period of time from the notice that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was going to consider going forward, I think the argument that they waived bargaining is going to lose,” Lippman said.
If PERC does side with the Sheriff’s Office, the agency would have a green light to try and meet its early summer target for the roll-out of the pilot program. PERC has 45 days to make its decision.
But the biggest revelation from Tuesday’s meeting may have been that the Sheriff’s Office has already written a draft policy for body cameras, a development that has not yet been shared with the public. At town hall meetings, Sheriff’s Office representatives have stressed the policies are still being crafted.
The draft policy referenced Tuesday calls for officers to wear body cameras and follow the policy guiding the use of them while working off-duty jobs. It also outlines 22 instances in which an officer must record his or her interaction with a citizen.
Few other details of the policy were shared. One that was discussed indicates that supervising officers down to the rank of sergeant would have the ability to review the body camera footage of their subordinates.
On the question of whether the union waived its right to bargain, both the Sheriff’s Office and the union spent much of the morning laying the foundation for their arguments on opposing sides of the issue.
Union local President Steve Zona said he attended a meeting about body cameras in May 2016, but it wasn’t until January that he first caught wind that the sheriff didn’t plan to collectively bargain the equipment.
It was then, Zona said, that he drafted a union policy for body cameras. The union and representatives from the city then set up a negotiation session for Feb. 6, Zona said. There, city officials said more forcefully that they would not bargain the issue, he said.
The next day, Sheriff Mike Williams made a presentation to a City Council subcommittee during which he first announced to the public his position that the cameras were not subject to collective bargaining. That prompted the union to file the complaint that was heard Tuesday.
Williams said Tuesday he would update the public on the program at a meeting set for June 1 at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s downtown campus.
Ben Conarck: (904) 359-4013