Body camera debate: Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd remains concerned as other agencies buy body cameras

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – As the crescendo builds on the side of body-worn cameras on law enforcement officers in Polk County, the sheriff remains convinced there are too many “unintended consequences.”

“I’m not convinced that the need for cameras outweighs your personal privacy,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The sheriff is concerned about video taken of people and their homes during events including death notifications, search warrants, burglary reports, and everyday interactions with the public.

“Yes, there’s a current Florida law that says that’s not public record, unless you want it to be, but the government still has it and how can they use it in the future?” he asked.

Polk County government and law enforcement leaders are moving away from the sheriff’s stance on body cameras.

Winter Haven city commissioners voted this week to approve the purchase of body cameras for its officers.

“Investing in body cams will, I think, bring about greater transparency between citizens and law enforcement and I think it’ll bring about better accountability for our actions and the actions of citizens,” said Mike Herr, city manager.

The Lakeland Police Department is researching companies from which to purchase the cameras and figuring out how to fund them.

Chief Ruben Garcia says he has no hesitations about body cameras. The cruisers have had dash cameras for years.

“About 99.9% of the time, we get it absolutely right and those cameras are going to bear that out and it’ll also prove that we take action when that very small percentage when we don’t get it right and we correct that immediately,” said Chief Garcia.

Lake Wales is currently training officers to use the eight body cameras the department purchased.

The Haines City Police Department is in an “exploratory” phase.

“We are actively meeting with companies and getting quotes,” said Mike Ferguson, public information officer at Haines City Police Department.

“The sheriff had an opportunity to be the leader in this matter but he’s now put himself in the position where he’s become the follower,” said Pastor Clayton Cowart, a social justice activist in Polk County.

Cowart says he and other Black Lives Matter activists will continue fighting until body cameras are worn by all Polk County deputies.

“To be so stubborn and to almost feel as though this is my county and I get what I want. I think that’s the idea of what we got going on,” said Cowart.

Sheriff Judd told 8 on Your Side he is watching how this “social experiment” plays out for other agencies and is researching the issue.

“I make decisions based on the best interest of the people, not what’s politically expedient,” he said.

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