Tuesday, February 18, 2020

St. Johns County Sheriff, department chiefs decline to use body cameras as other agencies adopt them. (SAR)

Honest officiers want body cameras.

You probably won't get sued for civil rights violations if you have video.

Good balanced story from the St. Augustine Record about one of the most remarkable facts of local government -- no body cameras on police officers in the place that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called "the most lawless" in America.  It figures that Sheriff DAVID SHOAR says it is a "false narrative" that police "need to be watched."  It was the Roman satirist Juvenal who asked, "Who guards the guardians?"  It is DONALD JOHN TRUMP and SHOAR who respond, "no one."

So two local city police agencies take their orders from a corrupt Sheriff, with no independent decisions on body cameras?

So arrogant St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR has a "Philistine's veto" on body cameras in St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach?

Who knew?

"Secrecy is for losers," as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said it best.

This is so wrong.  Our St. Johns County Commissioners and City Commissioners in St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach have the final word -- they should appropriate money for body cameras.  Or else be replaced at the earliest opportunity,

Our fifteen County and City Commissioners owe it to the people who hire them.  No more excuses.

Otherwise, Commissioners resemble the Kraftwerk song, "Showroom dummies."

On June 6, 1944, during World War II, when my father jumped into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne Division, the Allies dropped rubber dummies to deceive the Germans.  Wikipedia reports those rubber dummies or "paradummies," were called "called Rupert dolls by British troops and Oscar by American[s]."  The German word for rubber dummies is apparently "goomypoopen," as in the movie, The Longest Day.

The next time you talk to officials about police body cameras, ask if they are human or goomypoopen.

County Commissioners: would you be so kind as to require the five Constitutional Officers to file their budget proposals by May 1 each year, with meaningful public participation on their budgets?

Lead, follow or get out of the way.


Who is leading St. Johns County -- people, developers or Sheriff DAVID SHOAR, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994.

From the St. Augustine Record:

St. Johns County Sheriff, department chiefs decline to use body cameras as other agencies adopt them
By Sheldon Gardner
Feb 15, 2020 at 1:09 PM
St. Augustine Record

The three law enforcement agencies in St. Johns County do not have body cameras on their officers as the technology has caught on across the country and Northeast Florida.

The three law enforcement agencies in St. Johns County do not have body cameras on their officers as the technology has caught on across the country and Northeast Florida.

The leaders of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Police Department and the St. Augustine Beach Police Department recently shared their reasons why in an interview with The Record.

Now about 11 months away from retirement, St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said he wouldn’t implement body cameras. SAPD Chief Barry Fox and SABPD Chief Rob Hardwick have the same position as Shoar, citing privacy issues, cost and accuracy.

Body cameras, which monitor an officer’s activity during the course of a shift, have been a possibility since the early-2000s but really came into the national spotlight in 2014 after Michael Brown was shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Shoar said.

A 2018 Lakeland Ledger article listed more than 20 sheriff’s offices and 100 police departments in Florida that have body cameras, though the number has risen with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Miramar Police Department as notable additions since then.

In 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported about 47% of the country’s 18,000 state, federal and local law enforcement agencies were using body cameras in 2016.

Research on whether body cameras are useful isn’t conclusive. A study by UNLV Center for Crime and Justice Policy said body cameras led to reductions in complaints of police misconduct and police use of force incidents for a sample size of 400 Las Vegas Police Department officers and cut costs associated with investigations.

While a Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University study found a drop in complaints in reviewing numerous studies, it said the evidence did not suggest that body cameras changed officer behavior, citizen behavior or public opinion of police.

Shoar called the push for body cameras on officers misguided and rushed. He said there was narrative that cops were “bad guys” and must be watched.

He recommended putting cameras on felons.

“I want body cameras on them first, then we’ll put them on our guys,” Shoar said.

When asked of the usefulness of the officer’s view of an incident, Shoar said a body camera is one view of an incident that can’t capture the flight-or-fight thought process a deputy goes through when they have to use force.

Shoar said a body camera can’t truly capture the speed of the incident or insights into the officer’s decision making.

St. Augustine has several downtown cameras that act in a similar way to body cameras when an incident occurs, Fox said when questioned on fitting officers with cameras.

“The cameras don’t delete my police officers,” Fox said. “It records them just as much. For my officers, if you’re doing you’re job down there, you’re on camera.”

Fox said body cameras were unnecessary on most calls such as crashes or calls in reference to injuries or drugs, which would veer into “peeking inside of people’s personal lives.”

“Law enforcement is a weird animal, when people don’t know what to do or are in a strange situation that occurs, they call law enforcement,” Fox said. “We deal with everything, people that can’t get up or children that commit suicide.”

The cost and manpower to operate and maintain cameras was another deterrent for a smaller agency of about 20 sworn officers like SABPD, Hardwick added. Equipping deputies was one part of the overall cost — there’s establishing the storage space and maintaining and reviewing the data, he said.

Hardwick acknowledged some positives to body cameras like proof to back up officers in complaints and their use as a training tool. He said he had an issue with privacy, such as footage from a routine drug arrest or officers responding to death that could end up online.

“We’re going to go film a family going through the worst time in their life?” Hardwick said.

Florida’s body camera law is broad. It prevents releasing video taken inside a private residence, “a facility that offers health care, mental health care, or social services,” and also for footage, “taken in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private” as “confidential and exempt,” which puts the onus on law enforcement to release footage at its discretion.

Hardwick referenced the Palatka Police Department, an agency slightly larger than SABPD, as having success with their body camera program.

Capt. Matt Newcomb of the Palatka Police Department said the officers have been wearing Axon chest-mounted body cameras since 2015. Every misdemeanor, felony, traffic stop, crash investigation or miscellaneous call like an alarm going off is captured, he said.

Newcomb said there have been fewer complaints against officers since the cameras were implemented.

“Cameras help with all the miscellaneous complaints that have no validation. We can explain what happened,” Newcomb said. “It curbs the behavior of the public. Nobody wants to be recorded and be recorded acting like a jerk.”

Newcomb said officers can watch the videos on their smartphones.

“It really helps them from a recall perspective. It helps with the report writing,” Newcomb said.

The videos are categorized by case number or call number, Newcomb said. Florida law mandates footage be kept for 90 days, but the Palatka Police Department keeps traffic stops for 90 days, crashes for six months, misdemeanors for four years and felonies for eight years.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood was previously the chief of police in Daytona Beach, where he implemented body cameras.

He said he saw the benefits of body cameras in clearing deputies in complaints, disciplining officers accused of wrongdoing and as a training tool.

A Volusia County deputy was fired in 2017 after his camera caught him stealing from a DUI suspect. A Daytona Beach officer resigned when his camera was manually turned off during an arrest where officers used excessive force attempting to subdue a suspect, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

When Daytona Beach Police officers shot ex-NFL player Jermaine Green in 2013 after a domestic disturbance call, some said he had been lying in bed, Chitwood said. The body camera footage showed he had been holding a knife to his girlfriend’s throat.

The challenges boil down to privacy and storage for the footage, Chitwood said. The startup cost was $2.5 million for more than 200 cameras, software and five years of storage space in 2016.

“Storage is a big problem with videos that have to be looked at,” Chitwood said. “It’s labor-intensive to scrub the things that shouldn’t be in there. It’s the back-end where it’s costly.”

For the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, cameras haven’t been installed on deputies. Chief Deputy Col. Joe Wells said the decision mostly came down to cost and privacy issues, but he said he understood the benefits of dismissing false complaints and catching misconduct with the cameras.

“Body cameras were at one time seen as a total fix to relationship concerns between law enforcement officers and the community,” Wells said. “I disagree with that. They’re a tool.”

He also said Putnam County deputies went nearly a decade without a pay raise and were running a shift down.

“Any available finances that were dug out of our budget have gone into the pockets of our deputies and not to body cameras,” he added. “There’s the storage of the data and reproduction and redaction for public record.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office began its body camera program in late 2018 as part of an estimated two-year rollout. JSO received almost $1 million in grants to add 200 cameras in 2018, and according to local news reports, recent agency figures said about 380 officers were wearing body cameras as of March 2019.

Clay County has yet to implement body cameras. Two weeks ago, a man was shot and killed by Clay County deputies, leading the family to call for body cameras, according to local news reports.

Shoar did not comment on the excessive force investigation into three deputies last month after cellphone video showed the deputies kicking a man and striking him with a baton while he was on the ground. Shoar said St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has three people working in the internal affairs unit.

“There’s no profession as policed as (law enforcement), we suspend, we put people in jail, we write letters of reprimand, we have a unit for that,” Shoar said.

Both the SAPD and SABPD have one person in charge of internal affairs, and every officer goes through internal affairs training, Hardwick and Fox said.

St. Johns County’s three local agencies often coordinate on calls if necessary and Shoar, Hardwick and Fox discuss emerging law enforcement topics.

Fox said if body cameras were an option in the future, the homework would be extensive and all three agencies would be involved.

“If we ever have to approach this and come to some conclusion on it, we’ll do it as one, cohesively in our county,” Fox said.

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