As the Live Oak Police Department awaits the arrival of its new body cameras, the Suwannee County Sheriff hopes the rest of the county doesn’t follow in its footsteps.
The Live Oak Police Department recently ordered 12 body cameras that will arrive in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m one of those that firmly believe we work for the citizens of this community and they deserve the best-quality service that an agency can give,” said Buddy Williams, police chief of the Live Oak Police Department. “We, as the Live Oak Police Department, want to provide the best service we can.”
Williams has been the police chief for the past seven years and said he believes the cameras will benefit the department. He said officers will wear them at all times, but they will only record certain police contact with the public and not everyday activities.
He said the department will work on privacy issues and cost among other things in order to ensure the best results.
“When [the cameras] get here, we’ll work on the policies and procedures to make sure we’re complying with all privacy laws, that we’re using the cameras to everybody’s advantage, and we want to use them the right way,” Williams said.
Several blocks away at the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Tony Cameron opened his flip phone and clicked several buttons before taking a brief pause. Cameron, who has been the sheriff for about 10 years, said his biggest issue with cameras is the invasion of privacy.
“I don’t believe that you can turn them off and on because it’s going be too much in question,” he said. “I would not want every word that I say every day to be recorded.”
Williams said not everybody is in favor of wearing cameras, especially the new ones. Older VIEVU cameras, which were black and chunky, were placed on the wearer’s chest. New cameras, which are Taser AXON Flex cameras, are much smaller and will be placed on a pair of glasses in order to record from the line of sight.
“So what happens if they get in a struggle with someone?” Cameron asked. “Are those glasses going to stay on their head?”
The new cameras cost around $1,000 each, compared to the older ones at $400.
“I just don’t think that it’s something we need,” Cameron said. “The cost will be astronomical.”
Williams said when someone is dealing with a police officer, it is usually their word against the officer’s. Thus, the cameras will help provide an unbiased answer to any questions that arise. Cameron disagrees.
“The only thing that a law enforcement officer has in that courtroom is his word,” he said. “If you don’t believe his word at all unless it’s on camera, you don’t believe in law enforcement whatsoever.”
Cameron said he met with state senator Charles Dean and representative Elizabeth Porter from his district recently and asked them to stand with him in the fight to not make body cameras a part of the state statute.
“Sheriff Cameron said if we are not trusted enough, we should not be wearing the badge and he is 100 percent correct,” Dean said. “In our rural communities, we have developed enough relationships to where people trust us with protecting them.”
Two related bills on body cameras have been filed in the Florida Legislature by Representative Shevrin Jones and by Senator Christopher Smith. The House version of the bill, which would require the use of body cameras during specific activities by Jan. 2016, is on the agenda for Feb. 11 meeting of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
“The dashboard cameras used by officers are efficient enough for our community,”Dean said. “And while some bigger cities may decide they want officers to wear body cameras, it is unnecessary in our small local communities, especially when you consider all the issues which could arise from the use of these cameras.”
Sheriff Cameron does not think the cameras will become a part of the state statute at the present time, but with advances in technology, he said it might be a future mandate.
“[Police officers] only have their word,” Cameron said. “If you take that away from them, you don’t have a police officer. You have a camera.”