DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When Michael Harris was killed by police inside an Espanola Avenue apartment in Holly Hill on August 29, his family was quick to react.
Immediately after the shooting, they watched cell phone video recorded outside the apartment by a neighbor. The video recorded police yelling and more than a dozen gunshots fired.
“People like to bring up a person’s past, well my cousin didn’t have a chance number one, so his past has nothing to do with what happened today, because nobody deserves to be killed, I don’t care who you are,” said Harris’ cousin.
The family did not immediately know that Harris had fired first and continued firing at least four shots, according to police, hitting an officer in the chest. The officer was saved by his bullet-proof vest.
Daytona Beach police meanwhile, who were looking for Harris for an attempted murder warrant after they said he’d shot a woman in the back two weeks earlier, knew exactly what happened - the entire incident was recorded on police-worn body camera.
The same night, Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri publicly released the body camera footage showing the prospective from the officer who was shot.
“I released the video that day as quick as I could because I think it’s very important that the public sees the dangers we deal with as law enforcement and to understand that we didn’t shoot first,” Capri said. “The suspect shot at us first. We returned fire. I’m not a big fan of holding video back, let’s get everything out, let’s be transparent, and if you do that people can understand that we’re just doing our job.”
Capri said it was his priority to share the video with Harris’ family as quickly as possible.
“I met with them, I met with the NAACP, I met with the Black Clergy Alliance, they had some questions,” Capri said. “I think the family understands, they had some questions and one once I explained it to them they understand that the police officer is just doing his job.”
Capri said the body camera video showed his officer told Harris to put up his hands several times, even as he entered the room where Harris was pointing a gun at the officer. Capri said the video showed Harris fired first and that officers gave him several chances to peacefully surrender.
The body camera video calmed the community and the outcry from the suspect’s family in the latest example of body camera video exhonerating and justifying police officers’ actions, according to Capri.
“And that’s why I don’t understand, [law enforcement] agencies these days, they complain about money, but let me tell you something - if you have to invest in one thing in the police department, get your police officers body cameras because that’s going to save not only the frivolous lawsuits and problems, but it’s also going to give you transparency in your community,” Capri said. “And people are going to feel more comfortable with it.”
Capri said the Daytona Beach PD was the first law enforcement agency in Central Florida to buy body cameras in 2012, spending $2.5 million.
Currently, Daytona Beach has 200 cameras shared by the 250 officers.
Capri said the cameras prove the departments transparency and build trust with the community.
“They say, ‘Hey, Daytona Beach Police Department does things right, they don’t beat people up or do this crazy nonsense going on around the country,’” Capri said. “We have had nothing but positive, positive comments.”
Capri said the body cameras reduce complaints while holding officers accountable.
“When we got them of course everybody said, ‘Oh, body cameras,’ because we were the first in the State of Florida, they were apprehensive,” Capri said. “But now it’s like going without your gun or radio, where’s my body cam, I want my body cam. They [officers] want it because I can tell you this - our complaints dropped down about 75%, citizens complaints, because it keeps the officers on their toes but also keeps the public from making false complaints.”
Capri said some citizens, after seeing themselves on body camera video, withdraw their complaints.
“We’ve had people making false complaints, ‘the officer harassed me or said this,’ well let’s look at the body camera video,” Capri said. “’Oh you got video? I’m good, I don’t want to make a complaint.’ Or they come in and look at the video and say, ‘Wow that was me, I was really obnoxious, I don’t have a complaint.’ "
Capri said he’s spending more money to buy more cameras to equip Code Enforcement officers. The police department took Code Enforcement under its wing several years ago.
“They’re out the public, they’re interacting with people, and they don’t have guns or anything sworn, but it’s good to have,” Capri said. “Body cameras make a difference, they’re a game-changer.”
Most large law enforcement agencies across Central Florida do have body cameras as do many of the smaller ones.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office does not have body cameras. The Winter Park Police Department just equipped all officers in August.