This article concerns police body cameras: what they are, why they are being used, who they impact, and what Florida police departments, their police officers, and unions, have to say about them. The article also reviews the long-awaited decision of the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission, which finally puts to rest the long-running debate between police unions and law enforcement agencies over whether the implementation of body camera programs is a right of management or the subject of mandatory collective bargaining.
The development and reasoning for implementing police body cameras (body cams) is quite clear. It is a technological advancement of devices currently used in standard police work, such as radios, cell phones, computers, social media devices, GPS, and Car Video Cams. They help provide standard public security by identifying suspects, collecting evidence, and detaining suspected law breakers. This technology is simply some of the usual equipment used in police work. There is not, and never has been, any question that police departments have an undeniable right to employ them for police work. Having them and requiring officers to use them is not negotiable. While they may once have been a novelty, they have become standards of public service.
On first impression, the body cam appears to be just a technological advancement for performing police work. Like other devices currently carried by officers, such as radios and Taser guns, they are easily carried and used. They are about the size of a small cigar and are battery operated. They can be clipped onto clothing or eye glasses. What makes them different? Why can't management just require the officers to use them, like any of the other devices described above?
Sensitivity Over Police Body Cameras
Police officers are concerned about body cams because they can be used as strong evidence against the officers wearing them, not just the suspects who may also be recorded by them. Therefore, the question turns upon who is the intended subject of the camera: the suspects, bystanders, or the officers? Body cams provide significant evidence in questions and complaints about the appropriate use of physical force. In fact, while not the focus of this article, numerous articles about the pros and cons of body cams extensively address the positive application of body cams for assessing whether an officer was justified in the decision to use force and the degree in which he or she did.
However, body cam usage for collecting evidence against suspects (which is what patrol car cams are regularly used for) is merely alluded to as a minor benefit, or not even mentioned. Starkly stated, it is publicity generated by cable headline news that places video footage, such as from cell-phone cameras immediately and directly in the public mainstream. This includes alleged police beatings and shootings caught on tape, such as the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King by L.A.P.D. police and the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, that prompted weeks of violent protest. The content of body cam videos can be explosive and quite damaging to the police officer.
Therefore, the focus of the propriety of management's right to implement body cams can be evaluated by considering who is the subject of the video, so that it is viewed by officers as a perpetual invasion of their privacy that can be, or even designed to be, used against them in investigations about citizen complaints and accusations. This is comparable to an employer using hidden surveillance cameras to catch employees stealing the employer's property. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has held in the private sector that these hidden fixed cameras being placed in the workplace is a mandatory negotiable subject. (1) The conclusions in these cases make sense, because they are used to set and control the employees' working conditions, as opposed to providing entrepreneurial services or directing the enterprise. However, the use of the police body cam as evidence against officers places them directly in the crosshairs of a significant current issue involving alleged police violence, which has resulted in numerous violent riots that have generated profound expressions of public concern and political debate.
The Jacksonville Case Litigated at the Public Employees Relations Commission
This sets the stage for a legal debate in Florida public sector labor law that was recently litigated and finally resolved by the Florida...