The body camera program in the Fort Lauderdale police department has been in the works for over a year, but Dec. 19 marked the first day of camera training for officers in several different departments. The department has been testing the cameras for over a year with 35 officers.
The initiative to implement the use of police body cameras at the Fort Lauderdale department is a significant change from the pushback from elected officials in 2016, who pointed to privacy concerns and costs as reasons to not have officers wear the cameras. This time around, the program has support on many sides.
According to Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione, the City Commission and the general public have given their overwhelming support for the program. Chief Maglione also said that the public was very involved in the department policy's creation. The Broward Public Defender's Office also supports the move to use body cameras. Broward Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said that with body cameras recording all encounters between officers and the public, as car cams have done for many years, they will serve as valuable and objective devices for transparency.
"With allegations of excessive use of force, the camera should be able to support the officer’s position or that of the person subjected to heavy-handedness," Weekes said.
This assessment from Weekes holds true for many departments, as a recent study has shown that police equipped with body cameras receive 93% fewer complaints from the public. Every officer, from the captain down through the lower ranks of the Fort Lauderdale department, will wear the body cameras. Officers will be required to wear them even when working off-duty details at a private property or business.
When wearing the cameras, officers will record their interactions with the public during traffic stops, similar to car cams, and when they have someone in their care or custody. If victims or witnesses of a crime ask to not be recorded, Fort Lauderdale officers can use their discretion about turning off their cameras.
Over the next five years, the program will cost the city about $4 million. So far, the city has spent $600,000 to purchase 1,000 cameras, equaling two per officer, and docking stations. The city received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to match that amount.