Body cameras being tested by Shores, Sheriff’s Office
While the nearby seaside Town of Melbourne Beach began using police body cameras in the spring of 2015 and now swears by them, law enforcement agencies in Indian River County have been more hesitant, testing the cameras but not committing to use them every day on the beat.
Questions over privacy, cost, safety and evidence retention and access have provided much fodder for the national media, with the New York Times following the massive New York Police Department’s continued resistance to the cameras.
Most recently, the Times has explored the Seattle Police Department’s challenges in dealing with strong open records laws – similar to Florida’s laws – that have drowned police personnel in processing, redacting and fulfilling requests for body cam images.
Local testing of the devices is proving out those same concerns, and more, on a small scale.
Indian River Shores Chief Rich Rosell, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, said “we have been testing body cameras for several months now.”
On the positive side, Rosell said,“they are excellent in a situation where an officer has an investigation in a home. They are a great additional tool for the documentation of evidence. They do not take up as much space on the server as we originally thought. They are compact and do not interfere with how the officer does his job.”
The not-so-great-side of the cameras, according to Rosell, is “the field of vision is very narrow. They do not amount to much more than another audio source on a motor vehicle stop due to the manner in which they are mounted on the officer’s body. Sometimes the officer compromises safe body position in order to get a good video.
“Overall, the cameras are not bad. If we can find a camera that offers a wider field of vision, then we might buy them,” Rosell said. The Shores has no money currently budgeted for a department-wide body camera system.
The Indian River Sheriff’s Office, which patrols the north and south barrier island and assists Vero and the Shores in major crimes, is testing out body cameras for use in the field via its Training Unit, according to Public Affairs Lt. Eric Flowers. The big question is where the money would come from.
“We have not ruled out using them in the future, but do not have a funding source to cover the cost. The estimated cost to outfit our patrol section with body cameras is more than a million dollars including the infrastructure to support the storage and downloading of videos and handling of public records requests that will result in their use,” Flowers said.
“We will begin work on the 2018 fiscal year budget soon. As we work through that process, we will determine what capital items to purchase and replace. I can't say at this point when we would attempt to ask the county for that additional funding or if it would even be included in our budget or a separate funding request to the county,” Flowers said.
Of the police forces covering the barrier island, Vero seems the farthest away from strapping cameras to its officers. Capt. Kevin Martin said he and Chief David Currey have considered adding body cameras to Vero’s operations, but that so far, the money has not been in the budget.
As the number of officers goes up – Vero has more than 50 police officers – the initial cost for the equipment grows, plus the storage capacity and processing time increases, and the city’s current server system could not handle the added load.
“We are still looking at it, and there may be grants or other opportunities to help with the funding,” Martin said. “The soonest we might be able to do it would be next (2017-18) budget year. This budget is already closed out.”
Drivers stopped for speeding in Melbourne Beach, or anyone who calls police to report an incident has most likely been on camera the past year and a half, and Chief Dan Duncan says the relatively small outlay of cash has paid big dividends in public safety.
Duncan authorized the camera purchase in the spring of 2015 .
“When you tell somebody that they are being video recorded, they act differently,” Duncan said. “It can prevent an incident from escalating. It keeps our officers safer and it keeps the public safer.”