Over the past few years, tensions have mounted against police forces across the country, including right in our backyard in Okaloosa County. Many citizens believe that police departments have become militarized and are overreaching their power by arresting individuals without adequate probable cause, using excessive force, and sometimes responding to minor altercations with deadly force. Florida law enforcement authorities have been sitting down with citizens and advocacy groups to discuss how to rebuild trust in the community and increase faith in the police force. While many solutions have involved making changes in training or how officers respond to incidents, one of the more popular answers has been implementing body cameras.
What Is a Body Cam?
Last year, President Obama pledged $263 million in federal dollars to help begin body cam programs for local police forces like the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, state and local governments have also pledged funding. Many cities, such as the District of Columbia, have already begun rolling out new uniforms equipped with body cams for all officers. Other locations, such as smaller police forces in northern Florida and the Panhandle, are experimenting with body cams in order to determine whether their effectiveness outweighs the implementation costs. Smaller agencies such as the Crestview Police Department, Niceville PD and Fort Walton Beach PD have yet to implement this new technology.
Most body cams are small yet rugged cameras that can be charged prior to the officer’s shift. When dressing, the officer simply clips the body camera onto the uniform. Body cams clip onto front pockets, lapels, or buttons; some are attached to headgear such as helmets or sunglasses.
The body cams can record continuously, but most police departments keep the body cams off. The officer is then in charge of turning the camera on, usually by tapping a button on the camera. A body cam that is constantly on will pick up encounters that happen suddenly or unexpectedly when the officer doesn’t have time to turn the camera on. However, the recorded footage takes up enormous amounts of hard drive space, causing difficulty with storing many hours of uneventful footage. To solve this problem, officers are instructed to turn their cameras on once they spot suspicious activity or begin a Terry stop. Many criminal defense lawyers believe that this is can result in selective recording.
The companies that currently manufacture body cams store footage in the cloud, which can technically hold unlimited amounts of data. Police Departments claim that storage is too expensive to leave the cameras on continuously. For instance, the Oakland Police Department in California has to pay for storage of its whopping 190 terabytes of body cam footage.
Body Cams and DUI Arrests
DUI arrests in Destin are usually based on subjective observations made by officers. Most cases are handled by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, and they have body cams. For example, an officer may conduct a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer may believe an individual is impaired due to alcohol or drugs. The officer may claim the person was unsteady on their feet, slurring their words or could not walk a straight line. A body cam would record what the officer is witnessing. If the defendant later challenges in court anything that happened during the DUI stop (e.g., illegal stop, search or seizure), the judge and/or jury can review the camera footage in order to determine if the officer is being truthful about what happened or followed protocol that night.
This has already started to impact cases in Okaloosa County and especially Destin, since a large number of DUI cases originate in this beach front community.
Body cams have already provided vital exculpatory evidence in DUI and other cases where encounters, stops, seizures, searches, and arrests have been questioned. The impact goes beyond DUI cases, such as Destin domestic violence cases.
Contest Your DUI Charge with an Experienced Destin DUI Defense Lawyer
If you were arrested for DUI in Destin, Florida, you face very serious and very real consequences. A skilled Destin criminal defense attorney can assist you with combating these charges by reviewing body cam evidence and other evidence obtained by the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. To schedule a free appointment with Stephen G. Cobb, a Board Certified Specialist in Florida Criminal Law, call (850) 669-5882 today.
Cobb Criminal Defense Law Firm
1992 Lewis Turner Blvd, Suite 101-B
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547