Why Does HCSO Refuse Body Worn Cams, Majority Say “YES” – Other Important Facts
REGIONAL – Transparency is one of the most hotly debated topics between civilians and government agencies, especially when media outlets are competing to deliver breaking news stories on crime or other major events. Most law enforcement agencies employee Public Information Officers to help deliver critical information to the public, while top officials deliberate over what may or may not obstruct a fluid investigation or what may actually help solve a case.
Many South Florida agencies often hold press conferences to bring attention to homicide or major case suspects. Others turn to social media to post surveillance footage or composite drawings of suspects, to help the community locate a potentially dangerous suspect before they leave the area or commit another crime. But have some agencies transformed their Public Information Officers into social media marketing experts who are more focused on promoting events and other news agencies broadcasts, than providing crucial information to the community?
For instance, RNRF monitored the Facebook postings of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus Counties and what we found were vast differences in each organization’s daily posts.
The majority of Pasco County Sheriff Posts were related to recent crimes that included video surveillance and or computer generated composite drawings of wanted suspects. Pasco County is also in production with the A&E hit serious Live PD.
Hernando County shares a lot of typical social media “fun stuff” like “Waggity Wednesday” or traffic crash updates, which are available on their public CAD system in real time, and “thank you” comments from Hernando County Citizens. They also promote most Tampa Bay Area News outlets with headlines like, “Here’s a great story from our friends at —-.”
Citrus County posts a lot of similar information, but they are one of the least transparent when it comes to responding to “outside” media outlets. The majority of what you will find on the Citrus County Facebook page are Citrus Chronicle articles, a promotion for Sheriff Prendergast Wednesday morning radio show, and or a few comments about the Board of County Commissioners.
If you think it’s easy gathering information from local law enforcement officials, think again; well, that is unless you are dealing with Pasco County. They have four top-notch, highly experienced PIOs who do not hesitate to answer the media’s inquiries. If they don’t know the answer, they forward you to the person who does.
Our experience with Citrus County has been less than pleasant. and that’s by-far an understatement. In the past, we’ve inquired about major incidents involving death or serious injuries. The response we get, if we are graced with one at all, is caustic and downright rude at times. So, it’s no surprise that you don’t see many stories from Citrus County.
Hernando County just refuses to provide anything unless it’s an easy to access arrest affidavit that can be retrieved with simple keystroke and attached in an email. When asking for comments from Sheriff Nienhuis or other top officials, it better be on a positive note or the response will be “We do not have a record responsive to your request.”
Pasco – YES
Citrus – YES
Hernando – NO
BODY WORN CAMS
In a day and age where technology is helping prevent, solve, and even bring potentially deadly situations to a peaceful end, then why would any law enforcement agency decline to move forward and use body worn cameras (BWCs) to protect the officers, victims, and suspects. There really isn’t a practical argument that would convince anyone that video recordings aren’t the most useful pieces of evidence for any agency or prosecutor. Pasco County says they’ve had great success and have seen a decline in complaints and an increase in successful prosecutions.
We asked Sheriff Nienhuis why he refuses to “get with the times” and implement BWCs with his department. Aside from a cost issue, which most departments have resolved through pilot programs, Neinhuis says he doesn’t want deputies recording private incidents like domestic disputes. But BWCs can be switched on and off at the officer’s discretion, so policies could easily be put into place where verbal domestic disputes are not recorded. The other remedy, like dozens of other agencies across the country, is to limit access of certain footage to the public. And it seems like a large number of RNRF Community Members agree that it’s time to take the plunge.
According a brief 2-hour poll, 209 RNRF Viewers said “YES” to implementing BWCs. 5 were undecided, and 4 said no to BWCs.
Once again, budget time is right around the corner in Hernando County and if citizens feel BWCs should be an import tool used by our local law enforcement officers, then members of the Board of County Commissioners is where proponents can have their voice heard.
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