IN DEPTH: How JSO will use new body cameras

Jacksonville, FL — Police body cameras have officially started rolling out on the streets of Jacksonville, and WOKV is taking an in depth look at the policy governing how they will be used.

JSO confirmed Thursday that the first phase of their Body Worn Camera Program has started. The goal is to train around 200 officers each quarter, with a full rollout of the program taking about two years to complete.

The official BWC policy approved by JSO and the union is dated October 16th. It outlines everything from when to activate and deactivate cameras, to how footage is stored, and who can review the recordings.

Purpose 

The goal of the BWC program, according to JSO, is multi-layered, including enhanced accountability and public trust, capturing video evidence, assessing contacts between officers and members of the community, and providing training tools. Officers will also be able to review the footage from their BWC to help when writing reports “when legally permissible”, according to the policy.

The policy says it’s designed to support these goals, in providing guidelines for use, management, storage, and retrieval of the body cameras and recordings.

“The BWCs shall be used to assist authorized personnel in the performance of their duties by providing an accurate and unbiased recorded account of an incident, thereby reinforcing the community’s perception of our professionalism and transparency. This policy is intended to achieve an appropriate balance between the benefits of BWC devices with the community and officers’ reasonable expectations of privacy,” the policy says.

It further cautions that the footage captured by BWCs “cannot account for an officer’s physiological responses during critical incidents, such as visual tunneling and auditory exclusion”, and should therefore not be considered “the only measure of truth”.

“BWCs, however, have an important, but limited use as one of many policing tools,” the policy says.

Equipping 

All full time sworn police officers- including recruits in the Field Training Program- and full time sworn police sergeants in uniform will be equipped with BWCs, and all that equipment and the recordings are the property of JSO.

When using a BWC, officers will be in uniform or have their badge prominently displayed. The BWC is configured for each individual officer, so officers are prohibited from using someone else’s BWC.

The policy says the officers are responsible for caring for their issued BWCs, including ensuring that it is working properly and charged at the start of the officer’s shift.

Each officer is issued two BWCs, so that one can charge while the other is in use, or one can act as a backup if the first is not working. The policy says officers should always have one of their two issued BWCs for use while on duty or on secondary employment.

Use 

According to the policy, BWCs will be powered on at the start of an officer’s shift.

BWCs will be activated by an officer- or the recording function will be turned on- whenever he or she arrives at the scene of police activity, which is defined as engagement with individuals and/or when an officer reasonably believes there will be contact while working in an official capacity. That includes everything from investigative and enforcement actions, engagement with a suspect, and more. The officer is instructed to take every reasonable action to ensure the camera is activated, doing so before leaving his or her patrol car.

The camera can be deactivated- or the recording stopped- when the specific officer’s involvement in police activity where they are likely to engage with someone has ended. Filling out reports, holding a perimeter on a stable scene, directing traffic at a crash scene, transporting evidence, and similar acts that do not involve engaging with members of the community are not required to be recorded.

If a camera is deactivated for any reason other than the end of involvement in police activity- like because of JSO tactical planning or at the discretion of a supervisor- the officer must record a statement detailing the reason before ending the recording. Officers are also permitted at their discretion, under this policy, to shut off the recording if someone involved in an investigation is unwilling to provide information while the camera records, because of a fear of retaliation, sensitive material, or similar factors.

“Officers shall use their discretion in these instances and weigh the need to obtain possibly critical information with the continued use of a BWC and loss of information,” the policy says.

The policy says it will not violate Fourth Amendment protections against government intrusion. That means the BWCs will not record in private places like hospitals and offices, unless the officer is lawfully present- which could be for serving a warrant or by invitation. If the officer is lawfully in a private location, he or she is not required to discontinue using the camera. If the officer is asked if they are recording, he or she will truthfully respond.

BWCs will also not be activated in the Firing Range, JSO Academy, during tactical discussions, within one-thousand feet of a bomb threat scene, on breaks, and similar areas. Officers will not use them to knowingly capture legally privileged communications, personal conversations, or undercover officers and confidential informants.

Officers who have been issued a BWC must still adhere to all guidelines, even if working secondary employment. Off-duty officers who are in uniform and engage in police activity are likewise bound to adhere to the policy as if they were on duty.

Footage 

Officers are prohibited from screenshotting or making copies of any recordings, and they can only post recordings with the written approval of the Sheriff or a designee. Written authorization is also needed from the BWC Administrator or a designee, to allow anyone to view the recording.

The policy says an officer can access his or her recordings before writing a report or giving a statement, unless otherwise prohibited. This may not be possible in time sensitive cases. That officer can also review his or her recordings to ensure the BWC is working properly, but there are no other listed situations where reviewing the footage is allowed by the officer. It is strictly prohibited to view recordings captured by another officer or supervisor.

JSO Investigating units and authorized personnel can obtain recordings for official criminal or administrative investigations, by submitting requests through the BWC Unit. The State Attorney’s Office and Office of the General Counsel can also request recordings.

Officers are not allowed to in any way erase, modify, or otherwise tamper with the footage.

Even footage that is accidentally recorded and does not have investigative value cannot be erased by an officer. The policy instructs the officer to log the recording as accidental and report it to the BWC Administrator, who will determine if it can be deleted.

The footage is subject to redactions as allowed by law. Recordings in personal residence, medical facilities, cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, and other recordings of a sensitive nature may be withheld from public release, subject to records laws.

If an officer believes they have captured any misconduct or criminal activity by an employee of JSO, the officer must notify their supervisor.

The recordings will be retained for anywhere from 90 days to 99 years, depending on what they captured and, therefore, are tagged as. A recording of citizen contact without law enforcement action or an alarm call with no crime must only be held for 90 days. A traffic stop is held for one year, an injury in the line of duty for five years, a felony incident or arrest for seven years, and a life capital felony for 99 years, as a few examples.

Oversight and training 

The BWC Administrator is the custodian of all recordings and has access to all recordings. That person is responsible for ensuring all officers are trained, for redacting or deleting recordings in accordance with the law, for ensuring appropriate access level or others, and related areas. The Administrator is further responsible for a program evaluation at least every year, which the Undersheriff will also review.

Commanding Officers can review recordings made by subordinates, but are also required to perform field supervision. Each officer is fully trained before issuance of BWCs, and is subject to annual refresher training.

If officers believe they have captured a recording that could be valuable for training purposes, they’re encouraged to alert their chain of command, who can then push it through to the Northeast Florida Criminal Justice Training Center.

Penalties 

There are consequences for officers who do not adhere to the policy, up to and including dismissal.

The policy says if an officer claims to have failed to activate or deactivate a camera as required, the commanding officer will confer with Internal Affairs to determine there’s no other pending investigation, and will access any records to determine if the failure was “reasonably excusable”. If that judgement is made, it will be documented and no further action will be taken.

If the failure to activate/deactivate is found to not be reasonably excusable, there will be step progressive action from informal counseling, up through written reprimands, suspension, and potentially termination for repeated violations. Internal Affairs will also be engaged, if there are repeated violations in a certain timeframe.

Officers will get a 90-day grace period from issuance of the BWC, during which this discipline is not taken. If an officer is on probation, consequences will be at the discretion of management.

History 

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and JSO held six town hall meetings to get community feedback and answer questions about body cameras. They also ran a pilot program, with several test periods where officers were equipped with cameras.

They have secured federal grants for this early phase, but will need more financial support in the future.

This policy was created as a result of the community feedback, best practices across the country, and negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30.

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