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Police body camera bill under fire for privacy concerns

As police and sheriff's departments across the state, including in Pasco County, consider requiring their officers to wear body cameras while on duty, a bill to regulate how the technology is rolled out is taking flak for failing to address privacy concerns.

The bill (H.B. 57) by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, would require agencies to outline and implement policies for storing video footage, training officers and weighing civilian privacy when starting body camera programs. It passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously Wednesday.

It's a far cry from Jones's original proposal, which would have required every on-duty officer in the state to wear a body camera. That bill was scrapped and rewritten after the same subcommittee raised concerns in January.

But despite its vague language, legislators and advocates alike have raised concerns about civilian and officer privacy, which is not addressed in the legislation.

"Our concern is that if the camera is on, and it's required to be on through the entire shift, that it will capture video and audio in roll calls, in the hallways, on a lunch break, just as you're going thru the day," said Gary Bradford, a lobbyist for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. "We think those conversations are private."

Police body cameras have become part of the conversation surrounding police brutality, especially since the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., last year. This year, more than a dozen state legislatures are considering the implementation or regulation of the devices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Subcommittee members who unanimously approved the bill did so with the expectation that those privacy concerns would be addressed. Jones said they "definitely" would.

The initial plan to mandate body cameras in all Florida law enforcement agencies was scrapped after the same subcommittee members raised questions last month about cost, data storage and privacy, which persists as a key question on the bill moving forward.

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