Body Worn Cameras a “Success” in Pasco, Hernando County Sheriff Believes it Invades Privacy
HERNANDO – If you’re one that believes you can “live off the grid” – think again – there’s virtually nowhere you can hide without being photographed, video recorded, or even tracked by your own mobile devices, and that information can be easily accessed by the public, employers, and of course the Government. Most of us have adjusted to living with “Big Brother” and there are certainly pros and cons to that relationship.
With cameras pointed in nearly every direction on homes, roadways and businesses, criminals are forced to choose their targets more “wisely” or find ways to disguise their identity when committing a crime. And with today’s modern security systems, even the average homeowner can afford to keep an eye on their property from anywhere in the world. But there is one key factor that some say would be a game changer in crime fighting if all law enforcement agencies would adopt the measure.
Over the last decade there have been several high-profile cases, where individuals died at the hands of law enforcement or vice versa. The 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown led to weeks of violent protests, looting, and a near-total destruction of Ferguson, Missouri. Last year, 32-year-old Philandro Castile died after he was shot several times by Minnesota Police Officer, Jeronimo Yanez, who was later acquitted of manslaughter charges. When news of the Yanez’ acquittal reached St. Paul residents, the city was brought to a virtual standstill by violent protests. The 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, sparked days of racially charged protests, despite the fact that three of the six officers charged in Gray’s death were Black. What do all three of these tragic cases have in common? None of the law enforcement officers were wearing body cameras at the time of their respective incidents. Could that have made a difference in how each case was handled? Could millions of dollars in property damage, injuries, and unrelated deaths have been prevented if body worn video was released to the public before chaos erupted?
The two Kissimmee Police Officers who were shot to death last Friday by 45-year-old Everett Miller were not wearing body cameras at the time of the incident. Thanks to the quick actions by investigators, Miller was located at a nearby bar and arrested, and will have his day in court. Earlier this year, the City of Kissimmee approved body cameras for all their officers; however, the program had not yet been fully implemented by the time of last week’s shooting. Without independent witnesses of the shooting, body camera video might have been a key piece of evidence to be used in prosecuting Miller for the murders of Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard.
Closer to home, Hernando County Sheriff’s Deputies have been involved in at least two fatal shootings in recent years, and just last week, Deputies were involved in a non-fatal shooting on Cedar Drive that injured an armed suspect. Without video turned over to officials by RNRF (CLICK HERE) and cellphone video captured by residents, witness testimony would be the only evidence available to investigators.
Despite the benefits of body worn cameras, Hernando County Sheriff, Al Nienhuis says he will not consider them for use in his agency. Nienhuis told a reporter with News Channel 8 News recently, “I think dashcams will often get the evidence you need without being inside somebody’s house, videotaping them during the worst time of your life – often times we come into domestic situations…” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri agrees with Nienhuis and says “…We do a lot of videotaping and I believe that it’s the right thing and the appropriate thing to do for the collection of evidence but I’m not going to implement a body worn camera system.” But Pasco County Sheriff, Chris Nocco says he’s seen a lot of success in the last two and half years of using body worn cameras. Spokesperson, Amy Marinec tells RNRF, “So far, we have seen no negative aspects.” Marinec also reports seeing a reduction in the number of lawsuits and citizen complaints as result of the cameras, but says, “…Each agency must make their own decisions based on the factors they wish to consider.”
Hernando County Commissioner, John Allocco tells RNRF, “I would defer to our sheriff for his opinion based upon his familiarity with our county, keeping in mind that this would be another cost incurred upon the HCSO and getting his budget approved has, unfortunately, been hostile with the Board of County Commissioners over the last few years.”
Commissioner Steve Champion agrees with Allocco in that the Sheriff should have the final say, but he believes the program would help protect Deputies from “frivolous claims and lies.” Champion goes on to say, “Our men and women of law enforcement do a fantastic job and when these unfounded claims come forward we can easily dismiss them.”
Florida Lawmakers are paving the way for all law enforcement officers around the state to utilize body worn cameras. Earlier this year, legislation passed unanimously that would require law enforcement agencies to create regulations and proper training protocols if they decide to use the devices.
Out of the over 300 law enforcement agencies in Florida, only about 30 agencies currently utilize body worn cameras.
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