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Audit Reveals Limited Use of Body Cameras by Miami Police

Highly-publicized incidents involving police officers in recent years have led to a public outcry for more departments to begin having their officers utilize body cameras. Many of us are familiar with the dashboard camera footage that police departments will use to help in the prosecution of alleged offenders accused of driving under the influence (DUI), and the belief is that increased video recording of law enforcement incidents will help third parties be able to independently assess situations when a police officer and alleged offender’s versions of events are wildly different.  These discrepancies often arise during investigations for DUI, drugs, firearms offenses, and violent crimes.

The Miami Police Department (MPD) told the Miami New Times in 2014 that it would begin testing body cams, and the Miami Herald reported on October 4 that the MPD received a $960,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the purchase and use of police cameras. The Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), the civic agency that is supposed to provide for independent and impartial citizens’ oversight of the MPD, discovered in a recent audit that many officers outfitted with body-worn cameras (BWCs) either failed to use them to record incidents or did not upload the footage to the department as required.

The New Times reported on December 15 that CIP Executive Director Cristina Beamud said 82 officers with assigned cameras uploaded only 36 hours of footage and 63 officers uploaded zero hours of footage over a two-week period in November. According to the New Times, MPD policy states that officers with body cameras should record all interactions with civilians and footage should be uploaded at the end of every shift.

“Any mechanical thing can malfunction, but when you see this many zeroes in terms of what’s being uploaded, it’s unlikely that the machine is malfunctioning,” Beamud told the New Times.

Police Chief Rudy Llanes told the New Times that the department was conducting an internal investigation to see why the officers weren’t providing footage from their cameras. In August 2016, the New Times reported that two national civil rights groups gave the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County Police’s body camera programs failing grades.

While BWCs could theoretically help quickly resolve many of the questions that tend to arise in interactions between police officers and civilians, the MPD policy does not expressly allow individuals who are filing police misconduct complaints to view relevant footage. The MPD’s policy states that a BWC shall be activated to record all portions of the following type incidents:

  • Responding to call for service in an emergency mode;
  • All vehicle pursuits, or foot pursuits;
  • All traffic stops to include the investigation of a vehicle and vehicle occupants;
  • All searches including, but not limited to, people, vehicles, and buildings;
  • All requests for a consent to search without a warrant, including searches of persons, buildings, or vehicles;
  • All requests for searches and deployments of drug detection canines involving vehicles, when practical;
  • All arrests and/or citations;
  • Statements from victims/witnesses after their consent;
  • Any incident upon the direction of a supervisor, at the request of another police officer, or anytime the officer deems it appropriate to activate the body camera;
  • Officers shall only use the department issued body worn camera equipment to record official departmental activities; and
  • Any other legitimate law enforcement contacts.

If you were arrested in Miami for any kind of alleged criminal offense, BWC footage could play an important role in challenging the claims made by an arresting officer in his or her final report. You will want to make sure that you immediately seek the help of an experienced Miami criminal defense attorney.

E.J. Hubbs is board certified in criminal trial law by the Florida Bar and aggressively defends clients accused of many types of alleged criminal offenses in South Florida. He can review every aspect of your arrest and fight to help you achieve the most favorable outcome to your case, including possibly having the criminal charges reduced or dismissed.

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