Cop body cams coming to Hallandale by late summer
The pressure to outfit police officers with body cameras came to a rolling boil Wednesday night as the city commissioner who championed the idea in late 2013 took on the program's lone holdout: The mayor.
In the end, commissioners pulled the trigger and agreed to move forward with a yearlong pilot program as soon as late summer.
"We don't want to be known as the next Ferguson," Commissioner Keith London said. "We were smart to be proactive and get in front of this issue, and not be the next headline."
Police body cams have come into sharp focus in recent months amid a growing national outcry over the fatal shootings of unarmed suspects, particulary black men. Angry protesters took to the streets last year after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York.
Controversy continued after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot in the back April 4 by a cop in North Charleston, S.C. The officer was not wearing a body cam, but a witness recorded the incident on his cell phone.
In Broward County, Hallandale Beach will be one of the first to invest in body cams. Lauderhill and Coral Springs are also considering their use.
Hallandale's pilot program could begin as soon as August or September, City Manager Renee Miller said. Under the plan, body cams would be assigned to 20 street cops and eight sergeants only after extensive training.
Miller told commissioners a policy has been written and money set aside to buy the cameras, but she still needed consensus from the commission.
City Commissioner Michele Lazarow first suggested adopting the technology 18 months ago. Wednesday, she urged her fellow elected officials to jump aboard the body cam train.
Mayor Joy Cooper argued against the program, but was won over after an animated exchange.
"I am not sold yet on all the nuts and bolts," said Cooper, who confessed ambivalence about a program that might prove unpopular with police. "I am very concerned about rushing into a pilot."
Lazarow reminded Cooper the issue first came up nearly two years ago.
"I can't imagine what [officers] go through and I can imagine it is very difficult to remember details," Lazarow said. "This is for [their] protection as well as the accountability factor."
Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy said the cameras will lead to fewer citizen complaints and better behavior on the part of both officers and the public.
Before writing a policy, a Hallandale Beach police task force spent months seeking input from counterparts in Daytona Beach and Sanford, two Florida cities already utilizing body cams.
"We want our officers to be comfortable with it," Miller said. "And it will be met with resistance. Change is met with resistance. The mistrust gets eroded when they see how you're going to deal with the officer."
Union leader Jeff Marano was not at Wednesday's meeting, but has told commissioners the rank and file do not want the cameras.
The mayor wanted a guarantee that officers would not get in trouble for forgetting to turn the cameras on.
Hallandale Beach officers will not face automatic discipline if they forget to turn on the camera during traffic stops and other encounters they will be asked to record, Miller said.
"We have said over and over again, this is not a tool for discipline," Miller said. "This is a tool for training."
Commissioner Anthony Sanders, the board's only black member, backs the cameras.
"No one wants transparency or the truth more than me," Sanders said. "I want to make sure we have a strong policy to go with the cameras. Otherwise, you have more problems."
In the end, the entire commission, including the mayor, signed off on the pilot program.
"I'm sorry we're not taking more time to talk to our officers," Cooper said. "Now they know it's coming. They just don't know when."
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