Hiding in Plain Sight – Manatee County Law Enforcement’s Complex relationship with Cameras

Manatee County Law Enforcement is one of the select counties in Florida that has not opted to integrate body-worn cameras within its ranks and yet, has found recent success utilizing automated license plate readers as a tool to combat crime in Manatee County, according to recent articles in the Bradenton Herald and WFLA.com.
 
The beginning of 2017 sparked a new public policy debate in the state of Florida surrounding surveillance and body camera technologies.
 
In 2017, the Florida state senate bill 624, co-sponsored by Senator Greg Steube (R), son of recently retired Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, was passed into law. SB 624 along with House Bill 305, mandates that along with establishing policy procedures for body-worn camera technologies, a provision allows law enforcement officers to review body camera footage before writing their official report or providing testimony. In the previous years of 2014 and 2015, the state legislature passed SB 226 and SB 248, two laws that were devised to create public record exemptions due to privacy concerns of individual citizens regarding automated license plate reader systems and body-worn cameras, respectively.
Despite these legal provisions attempting to address privacy concerns of individuals under information-gathering camera technologies, civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida continue to argue for citizen privacy and access to police recordings as a matter of public record in the state of Florida.
 
In the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Report for 2017, the report states in response to the passing of SB 624 and HB 305, Florida Sheriffs will, “have to update their policies and procedures related to body-worn cameras to allow an officer to review body camera footage before writing a report or making a statement about an incident.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has consistently supported the legislative agenda set by the state’s sheriffs association. In a 2015 Bradenton Herald article detailing local law enforcement reactions to the passing of HB 93, requiring law enforcement agencies to develop procedural rules for body-worn cameras, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Dave Bristow stated that the department was still in a holding pattern and monitoring how agencies were doing.
 
According to a 2013 Bulletin published by the Department of Justice on Local Police Equipment and Technology, an “estimated 32% of departments reported they provided body-worn cameras for at least some of their patrol officers.” The DOJ findings in the bulletin reported further that, “An estimated 17% of departments used automated license plate readers in 2013.”
More recently in 2017, a pilot study on Citizen Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras in Arlington, Texas was conducted by independent research foundation, The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). In their findings, PERF found that despite survey results indicating no differences between citizen perceptions of officers who wore or did not wear body-worn cameras, there was a reported 38 percent drop in complaints of officers trained in body-worn camera technology a year later.
 
Two years after the passing of HB 93 and new passages of HB 305 and SB 624, there appears to be no change in the legislative or budgetary priorities at Manatee County’s
Sheriff’s Office concerning body-worn cameras.
 
According to statistics featured in the office’s proposed 2017-2018 fiscal budget, the increase in service requests took five years to reach 300,000 calls, in contrast, it took the previous 20 years to reach 200,000. In light of the increased volume of service, the current operating budget is slated to rise to 13.5 million.
In January of 2017, the ACLU updated its current recommendations for Body-Camera policing, stating, “we hope that these best practices will become widespread in order to ensure that body cameras are not reduced to yet another surveillance tool, but actually serve their intended function as a check and balance on police power.”
For more information on the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office, click here.

Manatee County Protesters Confront School Board at Tuesday’s Meeting

Four student protesters confronted the Manatee County School District Board about the student code of conduct requiring written consent from a parent or guardian to engage in the “take a knee” protest of the national anthem and pledge of allegiance.

(Protest organizer Mercury Clarke and others confronted the board on Tuesday)

The board received impassioned pleas from students and individual community members condemning the district’s recent defense of the student code as a violation of the constitutional rights of Manatee County students.

 

“Manatee County should be ashamed of itself for standing on the side of white supremacy and taking the wrong side of history with its directive,” said Ruth Beltran, a community organizer representing Action Together Suncoast and mother of a Manatee County student, to the district board. “I expect the school district to rectify this directive, to make right where it has done wrong.”

The backdrop of the national protests started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has served as a cultural flashpoint in sparking student protests nationwide, according to Axios. The current wave of student protests challenging the status quo across Florida has forced school administrators to scramble in response.
 
Manatee County should be ashamed of itself for standing on the side of white supremacy and taking the wrong side of history with its directive,” said Ruth Beltran, a community organizer representing Action Together Suncoast and mother of a Manatee County student, to the district board. “I expect the school district to rectify this directive, to make right where it has done wrong.
 
In a recent report from WJXT in Jacksonville on October 5, a Jacksonville private school required student-athletes to sign a contract without notifying parents, stating in the contract that they would stand for the national anthem at school sporting events.
For Manatee County, the board’s outlining of the school’s policy took place in mid-June, before the upsurge in student demonstrations according to district board chair, Charlie Kennedy.
In a previous interview with student protest co-organizer Leah Tiberini, the student code of conduct’s mandate is representative of the culture of intimidation promulgated by a faction of faculty and students against other students that are supportive of the protest movement.
 
The students will always win you know, this was a direct attack on us, this is our rights,” said Clarke.
 
“Obviously, the role of a teacher is to make kids feel secure, and if there’s a situation where a student feels like they’re being harassed or intimidated by a teacher, that needs to go to the principal right away,” said Kennedy said in a response following Tuesday’s meeting.
During the meeting, Hal Trejo, 20, a transgender student activist representing the student protesters echoed Tiberini’s sentiment and went a step further. Trejo cited district data from a 2016 Bradenton Herald article that Black students are suspended three times as often as white students in Manatee County public schools and are now subject to, “being stifled in attempting to speaking out against said injustices.”
 
District General Counsel Mitchell Teitelbaum stated, “Our student code of conduct codifies (Florida State Statute) 1003.44” in his closing remarks to the board on Tuesday.
 
“It’s not political, it’s legal,” he said. “And we are upholding this statute.”
 
In response to Teitelbaum’s defense of the code, district chair Kennedy reiterated to the board that the conversation on the district policy has just begun.
 
“I think there’s probably a legal challenge on the way, and we as the board are going to have to do what we are elected to do,” Kennedy said.
 
It’s not political, it’s legal,” he said. “And we are upholding this statute.” – Mitchell Teitelbaum, Manatee County General Counsel.
 
Following the meeting, student protest co-organizer Mercury Clarke said she was feeling optimistic.
 
“The students will always win you know, this was a direct attack on us, this is our rights,” said Clarke.
 
For more information on how to get involved in the organizing efforts, visit here.
 
For upcoming public hearings and workshops with the Manatee County School District,
click here.