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Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is finally equipping its deputies with body cameras

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office sent WLRN a video of Sheriffs Ric Bradshaw explaining his new police body camera policy.
Screenshot - Palm Beach Sheriffs Office
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office sent WLRN a video of Sheriffs Ric Bradshaw explaining his new police body camera policy.

Since 2020, Palm Beach County’s largest law enforcement agency has floated around the policy of equipping its deputies with body cameras. Now it’s finally happening.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office recently announced that it had secured $20 million in county government funding to equip their police force with body cameras and updated dash cams on patrol cars.

Some deputies, according to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, will start wearing the cameras within the next 30 days, joining West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Riviera Beach and other major city police departments in the county that have had them for years.

Bradshaw said it’s been a “long process” but that cost was the “sticking point.”

“It’s not about how fast you do it, it’s how right,” said Sheriff Bradshwaw, in a video sent to WLRN. Sheriff Bradshaw said he ordered 3,000 body-worn cameras with real-time monitoring capabilities for his nearly 1,000 deputies on the road.

“We have to have a unit that’s going to monitor what’s going on everyday because somebody’s gonna have to look at the video of each of the deputies in the districts to see what was going on,” said Bradshaw, who has served in the office for nearly 30 years and is currently in his 5th term, the longest-serving sheriff in county history.

The county’s law enforcement agency serves 14 of the county's 39 municipalities. At a cost that's north of $830 million, the force's operation represents nearly half of the county's 2023 appropriations budget. It saw a 5.6% or $38.3 million increase over last year’s budget.

The sheriff says it could take up to 6 months to equip his entire police force. The rollout will start with the largest districts first, while the police union looks over policy changes in work conditions.

Bradshaw's police body camera announcement comes after national media outlets showed the brutal arrest of Tyre Nichols, captured by police body cameras, in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols, 29, was hospitalized and died several days later. The incident sparked nation-wide outrage and discussions surrounding unchecked police brutality.

Evesham, N.J., is one of thousands of U.S. police departments that use body-worn cameras.
Joe Warner
South Jersey Times/Landov
Evesham, N.J., is one of thousands of U.S. police departments that use body-worn cameras.

In Palm Beach County, Bradshaw said proper training of deputies comes above technical capabilities, despite viewing live streaming body cameras as a de-escalation and accountability tool that has the potential to settle or resolve disputes, capture citizens who make false complaints, and reduce police misconduct.

“It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen that way every time,” Bradshaw said. “A lot of people thought, 'Well, having body cameras is going to prevent something.' Look at what just happened. It didn’t prevent anything.”

Bradshaw said “bad supervision, bad policies, bad training” led to killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tenn.

“When you have something like Memphis, it’s bad. There’s no two ways about it. (It) shouldn't have happened, but that’s not how everybody is. And you shouldn’t say because of that, the whole system is bad,” he said.

These aren't normal body cameras. The new equipment will have "live streaming" capacities, transmitting video and audio to a supervisor tasked to monitor deputies, usually in real-time.

These types of live streaming body-worn cameras raise surveillance and invasion of privacy concerns, especially when used at a resident's home without consent, unless there is a squat raid or warrant, according to body camera policy suggestions from the Bureau of Justice.

Bradshaw said "supervisors are watching" potential hostile situations but that it's typically at the supervisor's discretion. He said cameras won't be rolling at all times.

“We’ll be able to do the training, and the training is just gonna be, ‘This is when you turn it on, this is when you turn it off.' Because there are certain circumstances, you gotta turn it off for privacy expectations for the citizens,” Bradshaw said.  

Bradshaw said he plans to roll the new cameras out to the largest regions in the county, and that budget includes hiring more more staff in place to process public records.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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