What’s currently happening in Broward County Florida is a clear example of what can go wrong with the misuse of police body cameras.
It is also a stark reminder of why sunshine laws exist, and why Ohioans must keep state lawmakers from chipping away at the public’s right to transparency.
Media in Florida currently find themselves fighting to obtain video footage from law enforcement cameras after being promised earlier that such footage would be turned over in a timely manner. As the Miami Herald reports, Sheriff Scott Israel now is refusing to release the recordings, arguing they are exempt from the state’s public record laws. He claims the video reveals security plans and is part of ongoing investigations.
Excuse us, but that’s hogwash.
What likely changed the sheriff’s mind is the new knowledge of the department’s shortcomings during the hectic rescue attempt. Thus, the sheriff’s office is using the ol’ “ongoing investigation” trick to hide the confusion over the security plan, or flawed communication of said plan. Last week, the Miami Herald obtained documents that show a captain ordered deputies to form a perimeter, possibly after the shooting was over, and not telling them to rush into the building.
The public has a right to know what deputies did, and didn’t do, outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while Nikolas Cruz was on a killing spree inside. Video from the sheriff’s department can help determine if it bears a large share of responsibility for Cruz getting as far as he did without interference.
The media companies argue that the video recordings are of “extreme public interest.” The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and CNN rightly have sued the sheriff’s office and the Broward County School Board to pry loose surveillance video of the exterior of the school, showing the police response to the shooting. (The School Board says it has turned over its video to the sheriff.)
This is not just about who is to blame for whatever failures, or who needs to fall on a sword. The public needs to know that, should there be a “next time” this department knows what it’s doing, the Herald points out.
For those of us in Lima, it also shows why there is the need for police and City Council to establish, and enforce, clear guidelines for the use and release of body camera footage. If used properly, it will improve transparency.
What Lima doesn’t need with its soon to be purchased cameras is a “we’ll figure it out as we go” policy.