St. Johns County

Only one local sheriff’s office uses body cameras; why other agencies say they don’t use them

NORTHEAST, FLA. — According to study released by the Department of Justice in 2018, 47% of law enforcement agencies wear body cameras.

Only one of the sheriff’s offices in our area has outfitted their officers with the cameras:

  • St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Beach Police Department , and St. Augustine Police Department officers do not have body cameras.
  • Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is the only larger agency in Northeast Florida that does. That roll out started in 2018.
  • St. Augustine Beach Police Chief was the only agency (of the three) available today. He explains that they don’t have body cameras because the community isn’t calling for them. Cost is also a factor, but their focus as a department is on community policing; so the community doesn’t feel like they need cameras as another line of defense, in the first place.

When it comes to police and sheriff’s deputies here in Florida, less than half of them are wearing body cameras.

Deputies in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and officers with the St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach police have no body cameras.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole spoke to the chief of St. Augustine Beach Police. He explains the reasons his officers aren’t wearing them…and it’s probably not for the reasons you think.

Chief Robert Hardwick told Cole the cost of rolling out body cameras does play a part in his decision.

“For a smaller agency, you know, we have a set millage rate in the city. It’s not an excuse, we just have to prioritize the best technology items are for a law enforcement officers. That’s kind of a bigger picture to it,” said Hardwick.

But the main reason they don’t use them is because the community has not expressed a need for them.

“It’s not just about let’s knee-jerk and then put cameras on our officers because Jacksonville is doing it, or because Ferguson is doing it or because Atlanta is doing it. You have to look at the community and what the community wants,” said Hardwick.

The St. Augustine Beach Police chief says community policing is the reason.

“I am from here. As the chief, I coach in this community. My wife works in the school system in this community. We met in this community,” said Hardwick.

Hardwick says his 30 officers are not strangers to helping the neighbors they serve when they are not on calls.

He said that good relationship with the community is the reason he believes the public is not asking for officers to wear body cameras.

“It’s not because we’re small, it’s because I’m invested in this community. We live in the city,” Hardwick told Action News Jax.

According to a study released by Bureau Justice of Statistics, within the Department of Justice in 2018, the main reasons that local police and sheriff’s offices got bodycams were to: improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce complaints, and reduce agent liability.

“We have not had the same pressure from our citizens here in our jurisdiction,” said Hardwick.

Hardwick also serves on the Criminal Justice Standard of Training Commission.

It’s a group that works to make sure officers are ethical, well-trained and qualified.

He told Cole, on the lower side, about 500 cases statewide, actually involve officer discipline.

“A couple cases that I can think of since 2016 as a commissioner have been provided with that footage to make a decision on how we’re going to discipline officers,” said Hardwick.

While the chief told Cole he’d be open to body cameras if that’s what the community wanted, “They’d wear a body camera now, because they’re doing the right thing,” his focus will continue to be protecting the community the old-fashioned way, before technology entered the picture.

“We want you to believe that we’re doing the right job. We are protecting your home, protecting your kids, protecting your families, protecting you while you go to and from work— without body cameras. We want that integrity to be instilled back in our profession. But it starts right here with me,” said Hardwick.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole contracted to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the St. Augustine Police Department.

Neither one of them was available for an interview today.