In the wake of national scandals concerning questionable use of force by law enforcement officers, West Palm Beach police will today begin wearing body cameras.
As our West Palm Beach and Delray Beach criminal defense lawyers know, the hope is that the footage captured by these cameras will remove doubt and be the definitive word in a potential he-said, she-said-type controversy, as we saw gave rise to months of violent clashes in Ferguson, MO.
Though quite small, these tiny cameras (which can be clipped onto sunglasses, caps or collars) are expected to make a big difference by improving relations between police officers and the civilians they’re meant to serve. That said, we know there is a major issue with the implementation of the program, one which could potentially render it useless.
As the Sun-Sentinel notes, video can be a powerful tool, and that’s why the West Palm Beach Police Department is adding small body cameras to its arsenal — cameras that some officers will be wearing while on patrol. Hardly noticeable, they are 2 inches long and weight roughly half a ounce. As of today, the department will be training police officers to use the cameras.
A spokesman for the city of West Palm Beach has said that the point of adding the cameras to the department’s toolbox is transparency. West Palm Beach isn’t alone; as our Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Liefert know, police departments all around the country are beginning to implement body camera programs, in part inspired by President Obama’s proposal for a $75 million program to assist departments in buying the cameras. The goal, across the board, is to reduce tensions between police officers and the communities they serve. Moreover, as we know, having recordings of encounters will hold police officers accountable, as they and their actions will be on camera.
According to reports, the City of West Palm Beach has put aside $200,000 in budget funds for the body cameras; future funding for the program is estimated to be around $615,000. The cameras will be phased in with 50 from the get-go and a predicted total of 250 by early 2016.
As good of an investment as the body cameras are — and certainly they are — our West Palm Beach and Delray Beach criminal defense lawyers know that there is a significant problem with the implementation of the program. While it’s officially being implemented to increase trust and transparency, we find it problematic that it will be at officers’ discretion when the cameras are set to record. What this means is that although officers will have the ability to record ever encounter than have with someone, they can choose what is recorded and what isn’t.
The clear danger is that if a police officer is involved in an altercation where he or she is acting inappropriately, he or she can choose not to record the incident and simply claim they didn’t find it warranted recording. Then, our West Palm Beach and Delray Beach criminal defense lawyers know, there’s no video evidence of what happened during the altercation and we’re right back where we started.
If you have any questions about this development, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.