Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Manali resigned on Sept. 11 during an ongoing investigation into his misuse of his body-worn camera.
After violating camera operation procedures, which state that the body-worn cameras should be turned on at all times while a deputy is on a service call or comes into contact with the public, supervisors decided that Manali falsified reports and failed to process and preserve evidence.
Yet in spite of Manali’s actions, the body-worn cameras have been a constant companion of deputies in Pasco since February. They have expedited the processing of citizen complaints against deputies and are as much of a learning tool for law enforcement as it is for the public, said Lt. Gary Raulerson of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, who oversees the body-worn camera program.
Gone are the days where time was spent opening an investigation and interviewing to confirm or refute a citizen complaint because everything is now on video, he said. Those videos are uploaded to evidence.com., and are held there for 90 days, said Deputy Eddie Daniels, public information officer with the Pasco sheriff’s office.
If the video is not of any evidentiary use, it is dumped. Like any other document that the agency makes, these videos are subject to public records requests, he said.
Now other law enforcement agencies are looking to follow Pasco’s lead.
“We definitely see a need for [body-worn cameras], said Ben Tobias, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.
“A lot of officers want one. It reminds officers to act appropriately but also the public. We’ve seen complaints against officers go down because of video footage,” he said.
GPD has been working proactively since “before Ferguson” to implement body-worn cameras, Tobias said. But monetary issues are keeping them from equipping their 302 officers with body-worn cameras, he said.
“If I had to come to a figure off the top of my head, it’d be close to half a million dollars,” Tobias said.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has implemented a training bureau for testing body-worn cameras that will later be given to deputies, said Art Forgey, public information officer with the Alachua sheriff’s office.
“It’s absolutely for transparency,” Forgey said. “[Body worn-cameras would] let the community know what we’re doing. If we’re doing something wrong, we want to correct it ASAP.”
The University of Florida Police Department will be implementing body-worn cameras soon and is currently testing different models on some of their officers, public information officer Wayne Clark said.
“We pride ourselves on being progressive,” he said. “We are getting them, it’s just a matter of picking a company. UFPD is always looking at the next step to better serve the community.”
The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding is a community organization that partners with GPD and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office to help minimize conflicts between community members and law enforcement. Heart Phoenix, co-founder of the center, said she likes the idea of body-worn cameras for police.
“If body-worn cameras would alleviate some mistrust and help anyone to feel safer and the police to feel safer, then it’s a good idea,” Phoenix said.
She said body-worn cameras would provide accountability. Though the system is not perfect, Phoenix said that having the whole story will help.
Pasco’s Raulerson agrees.
“Nothing is as powerful as video,” he said. “It’s a very powerful tool, in my opinion. It’s not the end-all be-all, it’s just a tool that hopefully, if used wisely, will aid in that partnership.”
“I hope that it [body-worn cameras] just reminds folks that everything you do is subject to be scrutinized. So, if by chance you are in a position where you would make a decision that would not be in the best interest of your career or the public, that it gives you a pause to think before you act.”
Using the body-worn cameras is not just for the purpose of finding deputies’ wrongdoing, but to open up interactions between law enforcement and the public on all levels, Raulerson said.
“The transparency is equal on both sides of the fence,” he said.