A couple of bills moving in the Florida legislature aims to make law enforcement officers’ jobs a bit easier.
Out of the about 400 law enforcement agencies in the state, about a fourth use body cameras. Rep. Shawn Harrison’s (R-Tampa) bill would apply to the latter.
“There are 91 agencies across Florida utilizing body cameras to varying degrees,” he said. “This good bill requires an agency employing body cameras to permit an officer to review his or her body camera footage, prior to writing a report or making a statement regarding an event arising within the scope of an officers’ official duties.”
Officers would be able to review the body camera footage in cases, like routine traffic stops.
To address some lawmakers’ concerns, Harrison’s bill also includes a new change clarifying what will happen in more serious cases.
“The officer can provide information at the scene of an incident without reviewing the video for the sole purposes of identifying the crime scene and identifying witnesses and/or suspects, prior to reviewing the footage,” he added. “The legislation complies with the existing statutes governing officers under administrative investigation and officers who are suspects of a crime.”
And, Matt Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association has some examples.
“If you’re in an active crime scene, and people come up and they go, ‘hey, where are the bad guys?’ And, you say, ‘oh, well, I’m going to look at the body camera footage, before I tell you where the bad guy went or why there are shell casings lying around,’” he said. “That is saying the officer can’t prevent from giving that information at the scene to preserve the crime scene or to identify witnesses or suspects. We do not want an officer, saying, ‘I’m not talking to you,’ when there’s people on the loose.”
And, Puckett also spoke about those officers under investigation:
“Let’s say there’s a shooting,” he added. “The officer is going to be set aside and that shooting is going to be investigated as a homicide, regardless of the situation. At that point, if the investigators determine that this is a homicide, that officer is going to be a suspect in a crime, and he’s not going to be able to review that body camera footage at that point.”
The measure unanimously passed the Florida House Thursday. Its Senate companion has one more stop before it heads to the floor.
Meanwhile, after passing its last committee Thursday, a bipartisan measure is now heading to the House floor. Under the bill, law enforcement officers would no longer have to wait three business days to get either a service or personal firearm, after purchasing it. Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R-The Villages) is one of its sponsors.
“Currently, statute requires a three-day waiting period with only two exceptions,” he said. “One is a concealed weapons permit and the second is a program involving the substitution or the turning in of another handgun. This provision essentially adds law enforcement to that exception of the three-day waiting period.”
Rep. Robert Asencio (D-Miami), the bill’s other sponsor and a former law enforcement officer, says it’s needed for many reasons.
“There’s a lot of agencies in the state of Florida who do not have the means to provide their officers with firearms,” he said. “It’s a cost issue. There are some agencies and many officers across the state, conversely, who have to purchase their firearms. So, a firearm goes down—they’re a mechanical machine, right—or they’re stolen…it happens. Agencies are forced to do one of two things: put the person on desk duty or relieve them of duty for three days.”
And, he says even if they tried to become a concealed license holder, the officer would still have to wait.
“If they go and apply for a concealed weapons permit, there is still a wait period for at least three days. So, taxpayers are down for three days,” Asencio added. “And, often, that is a problem for agencies with a limited amount of manpower, when we need or officers out on the street. So, this piece is not only a corrective piece, it also helps the taxpayers, and it also helps us protect our communities, which is the mission of law enforcement.”
If the bill gets enough votes in the Florida Legislature, it would then need voter approval on the 2018 ballot. Meanwhile, the Senate bill has not yet had a hearing.
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