BY MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COMMISSIONER DENNIS C. MOSS
Last week at the first Miami-Dade County Commission hearing for the 2014-15 budget, there was robust discussion about whether the budget should include the purchase of body cameras for our police officers. Some may ask what justifies outfitting our officers with body cameras: my response is the McDuffie riots in Miami; the Ferguson riots in Missouri; and the common denominator- police encounter a disenfranchised black community.
I want to be clear; I am not advocating that we put our brave police officers in harms’ way. They have a very difficult job, and when you are in trouble you want the police to come to your rescue. However, professional policies and procedures can be implemented that keep our officers safe, while at the same time using technology to capture important video evidence that will help clarify what happens when there is a police civilian encounter. This type of video evidence could have resulted in a different outcome in Ferguson and could be helpful in avoiding another McDuffie riot in Miami.
Studies suggest that the use of body cameras on police reduce the number of incidents involving the use of force; reduce the number of citizen complaints; encourage better behavior by both police and suspects and captures videotape that can be valuable in future court cases. Both police and citizens tend to act more professionally and just plain better when they know they are being recorded.
Change is always unsettling and difficult in the beginning, but ultimately no matter how begrudging, change happens. Cameras in police cars was unsettling, but is accepted today and the same will be true for body cameras, especially if it prevents another community crisis like Ferguson or McDuffie. Let’s not forget the McDuffie riots; a city on fire for 3 days, $100 million plus in damage and sadly, 18 people dead.
That was the result, but the cause was deeper. Remember I said police encounter a disenfranchised black community. As I stated at a meeting last week, there is a rumbling out in the black community, bubbling below the surface where people feel disenfranchised, disrespected, unfairly treated and without hope. When segments of the community feel this way, it creates an environment where the McDuffie and Ferguson riots can happen.
Unless we as a total community hire black residents without them having to be bi-lingual, create contracting opportunities for black businesses, provide summer jobs for idle youth and fully integrate the black community into the fabric of this society, I repeat what I said last week; I am the canary in the coal mine saying there is danger ahead. We are sitting on a powder keg and it only takes a spark.