News from Tallahassee for 8/3/15

Florida Senate considers shielding video from police body cameras posted on 4/14/15

by Michael Auslen | Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE — As activists and law enforcement push for officer-worn cameras as a way to inject more transparency into policing, the Florida Senate is poised to shield those videos from the public.

Critics say the proposed law — part of a widespread legislative push to keep more records private — would keep the public in the dark when police use excessive force.

"The whole purpose of these (body camera) records is to reassure the public (and) also to protect the officers from unwarranted accusations," said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

In the past year, videos primarily taken on cell phones by bystanders have ignited public debate after officers killed people in Cleveland and New York City. Just last week, an officer in North Charleston, S.C., was fired and charged with murder after video surfaced that showed him shooting and killing an unarmed man running away from a traffic stop.

Some suggest police donning body cameras would help discern the truth after such confrontations.

Some local departments in Florida, meanwhile, have latched onto the technology in hope that more evidence will protect their officers from undue accusations of excessive force. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office and Tampa Police Department have already equipped their officers

Lawmakers like Sen. Chris Smith, D.-Fort Lauderdale, suggest a different priority than transparency: privacy. The Senate is expected to approve a bill by Smith, SB 248, which would exempt videos from state open records laws when they are taken in private places or involve medical emergencies and deaths.

He said he wants to make it harder for "third parties" to obtain video so people aren't discouraged from cooperating with police who are wearing body cameras. Smith's ultimate goal is to encourage police to wear cameras.

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Senate passes 'Waldo bill' banning traffic ticket quotas posted on 4/9/15

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Traffic ticket quotas for law enforcement agencies would be illegal under a bill passed by the Florida Senate.

The so-called "Waldo Bill" (SB 264) passed unanimously with no debate Wednesday. It must still pass the House and be approved by the governor to become law.

The bill's nickname comes from the city of Waldo on heavily travelled U.S. 301, once considered one of the nation's worst speed traps. In 2014, Waldo police officers disclosed a quota system, and the Gainesville Sun reported that traffic tickets accounted for almost half the city's revenue. The police force has since been disbanded.

The bill also requires a city or county to report to state officials if traffic ticket revenue exceeds a third of the cost of operating its law enforcement agency.

Inmates’ parents urge outside oversight; House sticks with inside fix posted on 4/8/15

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — Despite emotional testimony from inmates’ parents, a House panel approved a measure (HB 7131) Tuesday that the parents and other critics said falls short of improving Florida’s troubled prison system.

Those testifying Tuesday urged the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee to include an independent oversight commission like the one already approved by the Florida Senate. The sweeping Senate measure includes the commission and other safeguards meant to help blunt inmate abuse by guards and shoddy health care.

“Please consider this request from a mother who loves her son,” said Gemma Pena of Hialeah, who said her son, Kristopher Rodriguez, is not receiving care for his mental illness while serving a sentence in a Florida prison on an assault conviction.

The House and Senate are advancing dueling prison overhauls following months of media reports alleging wholesale problems within Florida’s corrections system. Among them is a series of stories by The Palm Beach Post about widespread maltreatment and rising inmate deaths in Florida’s privatized prison health care programs.

The House proposal does not call for any outside review of Florida prisons, the nation’s third largest system.

Instead, the House would attempt to improve prison quality by increasing the number of administrative regions included within the Department of Corrections, from three to five.

House sponsor Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said that change will keep responsibility for the prison system within DOC, and not relinquish it to an outside panel. He said better staff hiring throughout the prison system would disrupt what he acknowledged was a culture of abuse and neglect.

“I think the accountability measures have to be driven by us, written by us and held accountable by us,” Trujillo said. “It shouldn’t be by us convening some board of directors.”

But critics familiar with Florida prisons said the Senate’s approach (CS/SB 7020) makes more sense.

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Florida Senate bill would set rules for police body cameras posted on 4/8/15

by Christine Stapleton | Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed a measure (SPB 7080) that would require law-enforcement agencies to establish policies and procedures addressing the proper use, maintenance and storage of body cameras and the data they record.

Agencies would have to establish policies and train officers before allowing them to wear the devices. Currently, Florida law does not require police agencies to have policies governing the use of such technology.

According to the Police Benevolent Association, 13 Florida police departments use the cameras, none of them in Palm Beach County. But West Palm Beach is among the nine other departments that has put a pilot program in place to test their use.

In December, President Obama proposed a three-year, $263 million legislative package to increase the use of body-worn cameras and expand such training for law-enforcement agencies. Part of the federal initiative would provide a 50 percent match to states and local entities that purchase body-worn cameras and requisite storage.

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Bill would create cold case task force posted on 4/8/15

by sean rossman | tallahassee democrat

Cliff Backmann was killed five and a half years ago. No one has been arrested. Now his son, Ryan Backmann, is using the legislative process to help solve the state’s cold case homicides.

Backmann is the force behind Sen. Aaron Bean’s SB 1482, which would establish a Cold Case Task Force within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I hope this legislation gives a lot of people hope because that’s all we have,” said Backmann, the executive director of Project: Cold Case, an organization serving the families of unsolved homicide victims. “At this point there’s no one looking for the guy that killed my dad, there’s no one looking for a lot of murderers out there right now.”

The bill would establish a task force with 19 members, including sheriffs, police chiefs, victim’s families, a crime scene evidence technician and the executive director of FDLE. They would evaluate policies and procedures used by law enforcement agencies to investigate homicides and cold cases and would establish best practices for policies and procedures, according to staff analysis. The task force must also submit a report to the governor and the Legislature.

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