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For Flagler’s NAACP, More Trust Than Fear of Local Police as Body Cams Clip On

| October 28, 2015

police body cams naacp

A Flagler Sheriff’s deputy’s body cam. The cameras were the topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the NAACP in Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

So far this year, 944 people have been killed by police in the United States, including 58 in Florida, according to The Counted, an ongoing project of the Guardian newspaper. A fifth of those killed were unarmed. Blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be killed. So when it comes to police matters in their communities—and to police technology and methods—black audiences reason to be particularly interested, if not concerned.

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre recognized the fact Tuesday evening in the context of a presentation by one of his directors on police body cameras, a presentation before a crowd of 60 to 70 people at the NAACP Flagler branch’s monthly meeting.

“I just wanted the community to understand, especially the black community, how important this technology is,” Manfre said.

The presentation was as much boasting—if not campaigning, now that the premature election season has begun, with Manfre announcing his run for another term last week—as it was information and explanation about a technology with its share of supporters and detractors: body cameras are spreading, but not without some resistance, problems and questions, even in Flagler.

At the NAACP, however, there was a palpable sense of reassurance.

“I thought the audience was relieved to get as much information as they did about the body cameras,” NAACP President Linda Matthews said, “because the whole issue of the body cameras is because of what transpired with Ferguson and some recent incidents that you’re well aware of, and people had questions as to its reliability, who controls it, who’s around to see it, how it’s operated and whether you can still trust the mechanism. I think they came away feeling good about the questions they asked and the answers they got. Trust is the biggest issue, so we wanted to dispel the mistrust that many people in the community have regarding law enforcement, and I think body cameras are becoming more popular on both sides, law enforcement and the community, because it helps both.”

The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office had some internal numbers to boast about, such as a 75 percent reduction in the use of force and complaints related to the use of force, which the office attributes largely to deputies’ work in conjunction with body cameras.

Of the 3,017 arrests made in 2014, only 46 required a use of force, said Jim Troiano, the sheriff’s chief spokesman and a director in the agency, who gave the body camera presentation Tuesday evening. Traffic fines in Palm Coast paid for the 95 cameras, he said, with each camera costing $1,255. Footage is stored in the cloud, on servers provided by Amazon.

“Some people have an issue with Big Brother is watching them,” Troiano said, referring specifically to deputies perceiving themselves under surveillance. “I guess the response back to that is it’s too bad.”

An encounter with police is by definition an encounter with Big Brother, though cameras are designed to give members of the public the reassuring presence of a third, objective eye, which can also benefit police and prosecutors, in matters in dispute or questionable or criminal behavior on either side of the camera. But a new law passed in the last session of the Legislature exempted extensive uses of body cameras from Florida’s public record law, effectively undercutting the cameras’ usefulness as a means for the public of policing the police while leaving intact the prosecutorial aspect of cameras: while defense lawyers have as much access to camera footage as prosecutors do in specific cases, the public at large does not.

“The transparency issue is a big issue in the minority community,” Matthews said.

The NAACP’s goal Tuesday evening was to educate members on how the body cameras work and what law enforcement procedures are when recording and storing video. The aim, Matthews said, was to address concerns about potential abuse.

Eric Josey, the first vice president of the group, said body cameras are an important topic after national instances of alleged police brutality in a series of incidents since the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed.

“There was a lot of information there that I didn’t know,” Josey said. A main concern by audience members was who could delete footage, and under what circumstances.

Troiano said there are designated “evidence custodians” who are the only authorized personnel who can delete footage, and only after documenting each step of the process. Footage is stored in compliance with state law.

A camera is theoretically always “on,” but for footage to be saved, a deputy must tap a button twice. Once that happens, the camera records, starting from about 30 seconds prior to the moment when the deputy tapped. The camera can record for up to 13 hours. It transmits its data from a charging station when the deputy comes off duty.

Pressing a button does prove to be a problem at times, Troiano admitted. The official policy of the Sheriff’s Office is for deputies to turn on their device before arriving at a scene. That doesn’t always happen, and may leave gaps in a video recording, he said. The NAACP crowd picked up on the fact.

“You’re really caught in a lot of different motions that happen and you’re trying to deal with them all,” Troiano said, “and it’s not as easy to say ‘turn on each and every time.’ I can tell you there are going to be situations where I’m going to forget to turn it on just based on the stimulus that is presented to me.”

Troiano said he hopes with advancements in technology that the system will respond to a voice command to turn on instead of the current manual method.

And nothing prevents deputies from turning the system off during a call. Troiano eased this concern by addressing how an Internal Affairs investigation—when the police polices its own—acts as a safeguard against misuse. The Sheriff’s Office would itself address why a deputy stopped recording, especially in cases involving use of force. The deputy would most likely be disciplined.

“It is what it is,” Troiano said. “We have procedures in place to defend against that and we take it very seriously if our deputies are turning them off.”

The Sheriff’s Office’s goal is that presentations such as the ones at the NAACP will spread the message about body cameras. Troiano showed body cam footage of the recent case involving a group of deputies facing a woman who appeared ready to commit suicide by cop: she was armed (with what turned out to be a BB gun) and was eventually subdued by Taser after a tense confrontation.

Manfre talked about the case in South Carolina where a school resource police officer threw, dragged and brutalized a black female student across the classroom after she refused to put away her cell phone and leave the room. Manfre said such incidents would not occur in Flagler County because of the training his deputies receive, and the agreement in place with the local school board, which leaves all discipline matters to faculty and the administration.

“I think that we’re fine here,” Matthews said in an interview. “I have talked to a lot of people who don’t have a problem with our police department, with our sheriff’s office. The number of arrests are down, the number of complaints are down in regard to incidents involving arrests or physical take-down.” Referring to the presentation, Matthews added: “Seeing things like that, being able to ask questions and having them answered are things that keep trust ion this community.”

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15 Responses for “For Flagler’s NAACP, More Trust Than Fear of Local Police as Body Cams Clip On”

  1. A new world says:

    Great news body cameras are the future. But I still remain confused if confrontations between police and the public are recorded and especially in cases where known con men and agitators have proved to incite public outrage and in more than a few cases these days advocated full scale riots and bounty’s on police officers for what they convince the public to be BRUTALITY, RACISM AND MURDER of ‘people of color” when in fact proven over and over again to be justified or a grand extortion scheme by these same ‘ACTIVIST” what will happen now? How will they convince a ‘MOB” to riot, loot and destroy their communities? Will we still need self appointed community saviors to constantly spread falsehoods, mistrust and violence? What will happen when these recordings are made public (which as we all know ALL PUBLIC RECORDINGS ARE PUBLIC RECORD)?
    You cannot arbitrary turn on or turn off the camera, not in this day and age. Do you really think people are going to be safer with these camera’s or going to be terrorized, disappointed or disgusted when they truthfully witness life through the eyes of a police officer in high crime, poverty stricken area’s?

    Be careful what you wish for, you may not like what you get!

  2. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Cameras are great when implemented right, and reduce the number of incidents where police are wrongly accused to things but also act as a reminder to them to do their jobs within the bounds of the law. This is a step in the right direction, but the ability to turn the camera off and the fact that issues are handled internally and not passed to an outside organization for investigation bothers me. As ethically void the current administration is, I question their ability to act properly when dealing with a real breach of public trust.

  3. KBP says:

    At least 985 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2015.
    At least 1,108 were killed in 2014.
    At least 2,861 have been killed since May 1, 2013.

  4. Geezer says:

    We should all have the freedom to photograph or film the police, and not be harassed by them.
    After all – if they’re not doing anything wrong – why would they object?
    Naturally you don’t want to get so close that you interfere with police procedure(s).

    iPhones and digital cameras are ubiquitous, and are indespensible tools that tell the undisputed truth
    when a crime or questionable arrest occurs.

    * Look at the Eric Garner case in NYC. There is a federal probe pending.

    * Then there’s the infamous shooting in SC, where a black man (also) is running and the deputy
    shoots him in the back. The policeman’s account of what happened differs greatly from what
    the civilian’s video captured. Video doesn’t lie. That policeman is charged with murder.

    * Here’s a study in abuse of power. The perp was fired thanks to video. The perp was a cop.

    Relying on the police to police themselves, with the ability to turn body cameras off is pure folly.

    In civilian population there’s a percentage of people who are prone to commit crime.
    In the police population some applicants slip through and go on to commit crimes while fellow
    cops look the other way. Cops who “rat” on other cops may as well get another job.
    Would you expose a co-worker who you may need as a backup one day?
    Take a bow if you’re a person of this calibre.

    Clearly, someone needs to police the police. Why? Because they’re HUMAN.
    But here’s the rub: this other slice of society assigned to “police the police” would eventually abuse
    that privilege. You guessed: because they’re human.

    That’s why RAW video is the best policeman. The buck stops there…

    Now, as a good citizen you should be respectful to police. Most of them are good guys and gals.
    But there is that “rogue percentage” that ruins it for the good guys.

    Here’s a couple of interesting sites that deal with recording the police:

  5. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    I’m perfectly OK with an always-on camera allowing people to witness what life is like in a high crime poverty stricken area if that means that police aren’t allowed to wantonly murder people and then claim that they were scared for their lives. I think a lot of the complaining and threats regarding how cameras will somehow make it hard for police to do their jobs originates from police and prosecutors that are butthurt over losing the ability to railroad whoever they want and then hide behind a uniform while weeping crocodile tears. While it would be disingenuous to claim that every officer out there is a thug lusting after negro blood under the guise of He Was No Angel, it would be entirely disingenuous to claim that police are angels doing god’s work. All you have to do is look locally at police departments and you can see that fact.

  6. Markingthedays says:

    Applause from me. Body Cams protect the public and (more importantly) the officers.

  7. John says:

    They like to get you in a compromising position
    They like to get you there and smile in your face
    They think they’re so cute when they got you in that condition
    Well I think it’s a total disgrace.
    I fight authority, Authority always wins
    I fight authority, Authority always wins
    I been doing it since I was a young kid
    I come out grinnin’
    I fight authority, Authority always wins
    So I call up my preacher
    I say, “Give me strength for Round 5.”
    He said , “You don’t need no strength, you need to grow up son.”
    I said, “Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying
    “And dying to me don’t sound like all that much fun.”

  8. footballen says:

    I think they are a fabulous idea! In fact I cannot for the life of me understand why every single elected official is not mandated and demanded to wear one for every single second they serve official duty. If the sheriff had worn one he would not have a problem remembering when he used his car for vacation. Think of how much more would get done by our politicians if they knew they were being POV recorded 24/7 while at work. Heck imagine if we all wore one while we worked. Our bosses may find out a thing or two about our own dedication to actually work all day.

  9. PCOG says:

    Why should cops wear cameras? They are not the criminals. As a taxpayer I’d rather have cameras placed all over town so we can find out who is breaking into peoples’ cars and houses and leaving empty Newport boxes all over the place.

  10. just saying says:

    I’m sure there are people out there that would appreciate a non-stop filming of the police’s day. Taking a leak, dropping a duce, the profane things they say about their bosses in the privacy of their patrol cars. That is exactly the thing that will induce recruitment, having no privacy for 12-16hours a day, youtube clips of them facing a bathroom stall door, the creative ways words are strung together when a private to moment to vent frustrations comes along.

  11. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    People that work in banks enjoy scrutiny under camera while on the job and yet there are still bankers and bank tellers. Imagine that.

  12. Bill says:

    Im ALL for cops having body cameras it will protect them from unjustified accusations and the few times they are the one who is doing tbe wrong. All to often we see vidios of a cop violently taking down someone its taken just at the end of the situation and has NO context of how it came to that point. This will give full perspective

  13. Sherry says:

    Excellent comment, as usual Geezer! :)

    You asked me previously about gun safety regulations and my personal belief. First of all, I would like to point out what I believe the framers of the constitution meant by a “well regulated militia”. . . it seems to me that a civilian “militia” then is now known as the local police, sheriff and highway patrol officers in today’s world. They also lived in the days of “muzzle loaders” and had no concept of the assault styled weapons of mass destruction floating around in our current society.

    Saying that, since the courts have ruled that individuals not serving in a “well regulated militia” are also entitled to own guns, I have been speaking out in favor of having only “responsible” citizens owning guns in a “responsible and reasonable” way.

    In my mind, gun safety laws need to be enacted at a National level and enforced across all state lines. Guns every day are loaded into car trunks and vans and transported across state lines. It’s just lunacy to think that we should have and pay for the bureaucracy of enforcing different gun safety regulations from state to state. In fact, it’s just as ridiculous as having many, many other laws vary from state to state. Those who advocate getting rid of government ONLY want to get rid of FEDERAL government. . . in favor of STATE government. They never point out the fact that creating and enforcing redundant and different laws in 50 different states creates expensive massive bureaucracies at the state level. . . all paid for as a huge burden on tax payers.

    I would personally love to see:

    1. All law enforcement officers required to wear body cameras (in the ON position) while on duty. . . except when needed for privacy when using the toilet.

    2. ALL guns sales requiring legal ID and an extensive background check

    3. ALL guns stolen or sold publicly, privately, on the internet, etc. registered in a national database. . . with the original owner being responsible for registering all transfers of title. . . similar to what we do with cars.

    4. A limit placed on the number of guns that can be owned by each citizen. . . with a complete BAN on all assault type weapons.

    5. A limit placed on the amount of ammunition that can be purchased within a time certain for each gun owner.

    But then again, I’m a well educated person who would love to live in a peaceful, safe society.

  14. Geezer says:

    Sherry: Thank you for answering my question. Anyone who reads your comments
    quickly concludes that you most definitely are an educated person.

    About your reply: numbers 4 and 5 would impact me greatly, as I am a collector, and
    target shooter. I can go through hundreds of rounds on a nice day at a range. A “limit”
    is already in place attesting to the shortage of popular and inexpensive calibers.

    When are you going to accidentally post a typo? On that rare day I’ll buy some lottery tickets.

    I tip my hat to you, fair lady.

    –The Geezer

  15. Sherry says:

    Dear Geezer,

    You have an excellent point! There should absolutely be a special category for some kind of higher level authorization for proven responsible, mature gun collectors. I still would prefer a complete assault weapons ban though.

    The “arms race” in our country has put all our members of law enforcement in a much higher state of risk. It has caused those agencies to arm themselves with military styled weapons just to keep ahead of what the local civilians have. How can they possibly keep us safe when they cannot keep themselves out of harm’s way? Our culture spiraling towards violent, paranoid anarchy is scary indeed.

    Here’s a completely true, “subtle” example of the “new realty” in our neighborhoods:

    Yesterday morning, my husband and I went for our usual 2+ mile walk. . . me with my 3 lb hand weights, and him with a golf club for “range of motion” therapy, after his rotator cuff surgery. Three people stopped us to ask about the golf club. The first 2 asked if we were planning to use it as a WEAPON. . . No Kidding! We were completely taken aback! Only the last fellow said. . . “practicing your golf swing?”

    What a world we now live in! We are seriously thinking of moving to another region of the US (away from our home state), or another country completely!

    Geezer darlin’ . . . put on your glasses and buy those lottery tickets. . . typos are us! LOL!

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