TALLAHASSEE — Staff writers Sarah Peters and Daphne Duret contributed to this story.
A body camera measure that gained new momentum following this past fall’s shooting death of motorist Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens was approved Monday by the Florida Senate and sent to Gov. Rick Scott.
The legislation (HB 93) doesn’t require law enforcement agencies to use cameras but demands that police and sheriff’s offices create policies and procedures overseeing use of the devices.
It cleared the Senate on a 37-0 vote, just days after the House approved it 113-0. Scott hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the measure.
“This is a bill that in the future is going to protect both law enforcement and citizens,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis.
Jones was waiting for a tow truck on the off-ramp of Interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard about 3:15 a.m. on Oct. 18 when he was shot three times by then-Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja, who arrived at the scene in plain clothes driving an unmarked white van.
Raja has since been fired by the department.
Jones’ family members came to the Capitol last month on what would’ve been his 32nd birthday to lobby in support of the measure. They also delivered a letter to Scott’s office, asking for support on the legislation and investigations underway into the shooting.
Jones’ family members that day released black and white balloons in a solemn remembrance of the professional drummer, who worked by day as a property manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority.
Kweku Darfoor, an attorney for Jones’ family, said Monday that they were celebrating the Legislature’s action, but still deeply grieving his loss.
“The family certainly is pleased, and they believe this is the first step in the fight for justice,” Darfoor said. “But it’s just one step, and hopefully there will be some funding attached to it.”
Three agencies are investigating Raja’s shooting of Jones — the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, the Palm Beach County’s Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.
FBI officials, having interviewed more than 100 potential witnesses across 30 states and three countries, are conducting ballistics testing and other forensic tests.
Although the legislation focuses on law enforcement procedures, much of the Senate testimony Monday seemed directed at making the case for body cameras — a requirement that has drawn resistance from some police and sheriff’s departments. Some argue that while cameras might not be expensive, the cost and complexity of storing data can discourage their use.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who pushed the legislation for two years, said cameras “can get rid of a lot of the speculation when it comes to law-enforcement interactions.”
The legislation would require law-enforcement agencies using body cameras to have guidelines for their use, maintenance and storage of data, along with policies for which officers wear cameras and under what circumstances.
Raja was not wearing a body camera the night he confronted Corey Jones and there is no recording of their encounter near Jones’ broken-down SUV on the I-95 off ramp.
The Palm Beach Gardens City Council in January unanimously approved spending $262,296 to buy body cameras for its police officers.
Only a small number of Florida law enforcement agencies have elected to use body cameras. About one-third of agencies nationwide use cameras.
Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Eric Jablin said police have already adopted policies and procedures and about 10 officers are using body cameras in a pilot program.
It’s going “very, very well” and will conclude at the end of March, he said. The city will fully-implement the body cameras after that.
“We’ll probably be the first in the state to be in full compliance with HB 93, which I’m proud of,” Jablin said. Of Jones’ death: “I wish it never happened, but I believe some good will come from it.”
Jablin is drafting a letter to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg urging him to expedite the release of his findings. Councilman Joe Russo asked him to write to Aronberg after Jones’ aunt, Sheila Banks, addressed the City Council at a meeting Thursday.
Banks brought with her a note from a 6-year-old with a picture of a police uniform with a camera on it.
People are asking the family for answers, but they’re waiting just like everybody else, she said. It makes it difficult to sleep.
“We’re asking for your help to help us resolve this problem, to give us rest. We need rest,” she said.
Leonard Dietzen, general counsel for the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said the legislation likely only affirms what most agencies with cameras are already doing.
“If you’re going to have body cameras, you need to have extensive policies,” Dietzen said. “It’s kind of a ‘best practices’ bill.”
Staff writers Sarah Peters and Daphne Duret contributed to this story.
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