Body-Worn Cameras in Palm Beach County

After the announcement was made nearly three years ago, the time has come that Palm Beach County deputies will be outfitted with body cameras. According to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, sheriff deputies will all be wearing the cameras by the end of February 2023. 

The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office may be one of the last agencies to deploy body cameras, but they are also one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County. Although the announcement was made in 2020, the budget necessary to purchase the body cameras from sales tax revenue was not made available until this year. As Sheriff Bradshaw stated back in 2020 “with an agency my size, we are talking a $19 million investment,” which is why it took time to gain the funds required. 

What are body-worn cameras?

Body-worn cameras (BWC) are recording devices that are small and comfortable enough to be worn on the body without interfering with any sort of movement. The purpose of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office wearing body cameras is to record interactions between law enforcement officers and the general public, including suspected criminals and victims of crime. 

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has body cameras that record both audio and visual recordings of events. Some devices even include date and time stamps as well as GPS coordinates with the recordings. Right now, laws and regulations regarding how often data from recordings should be downloaded, how long the data should be kept, and if biometric technology such as facial recognition is admissible vary across states and even cities. 

How will body-worn cameras be used by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office?

The footage captured by body-worn cameras is an invaluable tool that even dashboard cameras and CCTV systems can not accurately capture. Using such a device is considered an impartial witness in court cases where there may otherwise be a dispute. This can shorten the length of court proceedings and most importantly provide irrefutable evidence in a “he said, she said” case. 

What are the effects of Law Enforcement Officers wearing body cameras?

The hope of using this type of recording technology is that there will be improved civility in encounters between officers and citizens. In a study published by the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, officers equipped with body-worn cameras generated fewer complaints and use of force reports in comparison to offers without them. Knowing that the body camera is there and actively recording encourages everyone to improve behavior, a phenomenon known as a “civilizing effect”.  

This “civilizing effect” is found to be true on both sides of law enforcement interaction. Firstly, it’s been shown community members are less likely to file unfounded complaints when law enforcement officers are wearing cameras. On the other hand, use-of-force incidents dropped significantly after officers were outfitted with cameras in both Rialto, California, and Mesa, Arizona. However, results are not consistent and there is still much research to be done before we can absolutely determine that body cameras reduce use-of-force incidents by law enforcement. 

What are the cons of body-worn cameras in Florida?

One of the major concerns brought up regarding body-worn cameras is their potential to violate the 4th amendment. In the constitution, the 4th Amendment “protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.” However, there are exceptions to this law which mostly depend on the said location of such a search or seizure. Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83 (1998). Right now, “visual observation” such as with body-worn cameras is not a violation of the 4th amendment. However, our legal precedents have yet to catch up with technology. The point at which an individual’s right to “reasonable expectation of privacy” would be violated is still up for debate. 

On the other hand, the public does retain the right to record law enforcement officers performing their duties in public, as affirmed by the 1st Amendment.


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