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Hollywood Is Largest City in South Florida Without Body Cams

Hollywood, Fla., doesn’t outfit officers with body cameras, an accountability issue raised again this week when a teen carjacking suspect died in custody after a police chase to Miami-Dade County.

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(TNS) — Hollywood is the largest city in South Florida that doesn’t outfit officers with body cameras, an accountability issue raised again this week when a teen carjacking suspect died in custody after a police chase from Hollywood to Miami-Dade County.

Officers involved in the chase and its aftermath have no video to back their account of what happened after a stolen Alfa Romeo crashed. Investigators will need to compare conflicting accounts to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s findings on how the youth died.

Witnesses to Sunday’s confrontation told a television news crew that Hollywood police beat and kicked the suspect after he crashed the stolen car in a Miami-Dade neighborhood, but it’s not clear whether they gave the same account to investigators reviewing the incident.

Officials in Hollywood say officers could have body cameras early next year, if federal funding comes through. The money would go to purchasing 250 cameras, along with the technology and the personnel to maintain and review the footage.

Officials blame the delay on a combination of bureaucracy and cost, though that hasn’t stopped larger agencies such as Fort Lauderdale Police and the Broward Sheriff’s Office from ordering cameras for their officers.

A South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation earlier this year found the problem is compounded by a lack of transparency in K-9 units.

Nearly one in five people bitten in Broward County were 17 or younger, despite policies that discourage police officers from unleashing K-9s on children. In Hollywood, that statistic was especially striking: almost half the people bitten were juveniles.

In Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Fort Lauderdale, relatively few officers had cameras because the programs had just begun. Even now, there are more officers recording, but not every K-9 cop wears a camera. Some of those who do have turned them off or forgotten to activate them without consequence.

While critics and prosecutors have relied on body camera footage to take officers to task for their on-the-job conduct, police have been just as ready to use the cameras to defend their actions and clear their names.

After the 2019 arrest of teenager Delucca Rolle in Tamarac, body camera footage figured heavily in the “stand your ground” claims filed by the accused officers. The footage led a Broward judge to dismiss charges against one of the officers. The same video has a second officer facing a misdemeanor count of battery.

Hollywood City Commissioner Caryl Shuham began pushing for the cameras shortly after she took office in 2019. City officials said Wednesday that U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz filed an appropriations bill in April seeking $1.7 million, and the Hollywood Police Department followed up by seeking a $650,000 federal grant.

“Things with the city tend to take a long time,” Shuham said. “It’s been moving forward slowly, and now we’re excited — cautiously optimistic.”

Answers to whether the federal funding will come through should become public next month. But Hollywood city spokeswoman Joann Hussey said cameras would come on a smaller scale without the funding.

“The city has set aside some money to support the program,” she said. “We won’t be able to do as much without the federal aid, but we will move forward.”

Police brass have been supportive of the effort, she said, though some police critics say the department has historically stood in the way of body cameras.

“We’ve been pushing for this for years,” said Jerry Viskocil, a local activist who has advocated for cameras to hold police accountable to prevent them from planting evidence. “You have to take them at their word, and they have proved too many times that their word can’t be trusted.”

© 2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.