The Royal Palm Beach Village Council tabled its offer to give the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office money to pay for bodycams last week at the suggestion of PBSO Major Eric Coleman.
At budget discussions on Tuesday, July 7, Village Manager Ray Liggins said that the law enforcement budget had remained the same after the PBSO announced that due to COVID-19, it would not increase its contract one percent for all municipalities, as the agency had previously suggested, and would remain the same at just over $8 million.
Mayor Fred Pinto asked Coleman about the possibility of District 9 adding bodycams to be paid for by the village. “The village is considering the use of bodycams for the police,” Pinto said. “The sheriff has gone on record as supporting the use of bodycams, so again, it’s a funding issue.”
Coleman said that it is an agency priority to start using body cameras.
“The sheriff from day one has never opposed them,” he said. “At the early stages, he did want to let the technology develop, along with the policy and the law around them.”
In 2016, the PBSO came up with a figure of about $19 million for technology upgrades to include bodycams, he said.
“The cameras themselves are relatively inexpensive,” Coleman said. “The department would need about 3,000 of them to outfit the law enforcement and corrections folks. The real re-occurring cost is in the State of Florida, we have broad public records laws. We’re also a large agency. Last year, we had 1.3 million calls for service, 170,000 traffic stops that were conducted in Palm Beach County and made 17,000 arrests.”
He said that if a case is contested, the department must supply footage of the bodycams, which is an average of three videos from separate officers. In a controversial case, that must be redacted to protect minors or other sensitive or private footage not related to the arrest itself, requiring a minute-by-minute review of the footage, which could require 30 or so personnel to review all the footage.
“Somebody would have to sit down and redact that information from that video, so that’s where the real re-occurring cost is,” Coleman said. “We’ve had cameras in our cars since 2010. We also have cameras on our tasers.”
He added that the car cameras are due to be upgraded, which is part of the estimated $19 million. He added that the PBSO is working with the county for technology upgrades in the coming years.
“We would certainly accept any donations from the village, but we really can’t have cities participating individually, or by piecemealing technology,” Coleman said. “The servers alone are going to be millions of dollars. We all recognize that’s there’s huge public interest, and we want to get those cameras, and I’m pretty confident that it’s going to happen.”
Pinto said that whatever the PBSO decides, the village would support it and be willing to budget money for the project.
Councilman Richard Valuntas said he understood the disparity of obtaining funding from different municipalities, some of which are more fiscally situated, and appreciated the county’s willingness to cooperate with the PBSO for bodycam funding.
He felt that a comprehensive program would be an asset to law enforcement.
Pinto asked Coleman what he would recommend, and he suggested tabling the item until the PBSO gets more information on the matter.
“I think that it’s important for the sheriff to get the message from us, and more importantly for the county commission to hear from us that we would really like to see this done,” Pinto said.