Volusia deputies’ union halts body cameras, lists concerns

 

TheVolusiaCountySheriff'sDepartmentFL — which has lagged behind some agencies in equipping its deputies with body cameras — has now delayed the rollout of the video recorders as county officials haggle with the deputies’ union over the devices.

The Sheriff’s Office had purchased 225 cameras and had deployed 20 to patrol deputies in the New Smyrna, Edgewater, Port Orange and Oak Hill areas. But the agency recalled the body cameras after only a week following a demand by the Volusia County Deputies Association, said sheriff’s spokesman Gary Davidson.

The union had been involved in negotiations with Volusia County officials over the use of the body cameras since February. But the Sheriff’s Office put the first 20 cameras in the field due to a misunderstanding on whether it could proceed even though it still had issues to resolve with the union on a policy regarding the use of the digital eyes, Davidson said.

The union’s business agent, Gary Conroy, said his organization is not opposed to body cameras. But the union wants to make sure that its members’ working rights are protected since deputies could be disciplined for issues surrounding the cameras, Conroy said.

“I don’t want any of my people to get in trouble because they don’t know how to use the body cameras,” Conroy said.

Deputies will be asked to learn new skills and the union is asking for a reasonable learning curve as the use of the equipment is “uncharted waters for all stakeholders,” Conroy said.

A copy of the draft policy shows the union’s tweaks included noting that the cameras malfunction or get damaged if subjected to shock or physical impacts. It also clarified that prisoners in a hospital or waiting to appear in court will not be routinely recorded unless it is required.

The union also added that cameras be turned off if someone is interviewed in a room equipped with a recording system.

The Sheriff’s Office purchased the 225 body cameras in March at a cost of nearly $2.5 million. The cameras were issued to deputies in the District 5 area on May 17, then the devices were taken off the street on May 24.

Davidson said they have worked with the union to resolve some issues regarding the use of the cameras, but said he did not know what the final issues are that will be discussed in a meeting later this month.

“The union has provided very useful input and suggestions for changes in our permanent policy, most of which have been incorporated into the latest version,” Davidson said.  “Our hope is that we will be able to resolve any remaining issues at the June 16 meeting and then resume deployment of the cameras,” Davidson said.

Volusia County spokeswoman Joanne Magley said some of the issues have been worked out.

According to media reports, the use of body cameras by police departments have prompted union bargaining around the country. The small gadgets have also set off lawsuits. In April, the Denver Police Protective Association filed a lawsuit against the Denver Police Department, claiming the body cameras program was illegally developed, ignoring the union. Although the Denver union said it was not opposed to the use of body cameras, it said its concern was how the electronic gadgets would affect officers’ workloads when wearing them on off-duty security jobs.

While the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has no body cameras on the street, some other area agencies are well into the video age. More law enforcement agencies are turning to the devices to provide transparency, particularly after some controversial officer-involved shootings across the nation.

Body cameras could have shed light on the six times since Sept. 20, 2014 that Volusia Sheriff’s deputies have shot and killed men.  That’s the date Deputy Joel Hernandez shot and killed Edward P. Miller, a 52-year-old deaf man who had a concealed carry permit and a gun as he sat in his car outside a Daytona Beach tow yard, records show.  Hernandez was in plainclothes with a badge, handcuffs and gun clipped on his belt and opened the door to Miller’s car. Miller pulled a gun out of his pocket and Hernandez shot him to death. On March 4, 2015, Deputy Todd Raible shot Derek Cruice, 26, while serving a search warrant in Deltona. Cruice was unarmed but the deputy perceived a move he made as a threat, reports said.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the deputies. In April, Volusia County approved a $500,000 settlement with Cruice’s family. The county faces a possible lawsuit in Miller’s shooting.

This past May 29, a motorist’s video recorded deputies as they shot and killed a man who was sought in an armed robbery with a gun. The video showed Donald Edward Brown raising his hand from behind his back in a sudden motion as if aiming a firearm just before the deputies shot him.  A knife was found in Brown’s hand after the shooting.

(READ: SPECIAL REPORT: When Florida law officers shoot, no one keeps track)

Daytona Beach Police was the first agency in Volusia and Flagler to start equipping its officers with the cameras in 2012. It now has 150 cameras. The cameras were recording when Daytona Beach Police officers shot Jermaine Green in September 2013 as the former Spruce Creek football star used a knife to threaten his girlfriend. Green survived and is now in prison.

Other agencies with cameras are: Daytona Beach Shores with 30, Orange City Police with 16 and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office with 80.

New Smyrna Beach Police and DeLand Police are testing the devices while Port Orange is acquiring the gadgets.

The Daytona Beach Police Coastal Police Benevolent Association did not raise issues about the deployment of the department’s cameras, said police spokesman Jmmy Flynt.

In Flagler County, the union did not bring up issues and the deployment process has been nearly flawless, although the union helped tweak the policy on the use of the body cameras to keep up with trends and new legislation, said Flagler sheriff’s spokeswoman Laura Williams.

Williams said even detectives with the Flagler Sheriff’s Office will be provided with body cameras as the agency is in the process of acquiring 35 more of the devices.

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