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Marcus Michles & Sheriff Larry Ashley Discuss Community Issues

Michles & Booth Vblog: Okaloosa County Sheriff Ashley [Transcript]

Welcome to this week’s installment of our video blog.  I’m Marcus Michles joined with a very special…joined today by a very special guest, Sheriff Ashley from Okaloosa County.

Welcome! Good to be here. Thanks for taking so much of your valuable time, not only come this far, but just to get over here.  I know you got a ton of things going on.

We do, but this is worthwhile, just being able to communicate with the citizens. We appreciate you letting us be here.

It’s great, and we were talking off camera before we got on.  There are so many issues that I’m you know, I like to think of myself as paying attention but you can’t pay attention to everything. Some of the stuff that you’re having to fight and to deal with…increase in crime… some of the percentages you said a moment ago are

Shocking as relative to your budget and manpower. I think it’s…I think really we ought to start by getting that information out.

Well, Okaloosa County, you know we’re celebrating our hundredth year birthday this year, and we have one of the lowest per capita cost in the country as far as how much it cost each citizen for law enforcement. And people, you know, that aren’t budget savvy say “well, how do you determine what your per capita is?” You take your budget and divide it by the number of people in your community that you serve. So we have one of the lowest per capita and we have one of the lowest officer per thousand ratios, not just in Florida but in the country.  That’s amazing.  So, from 2009 to 2012, we had about a 92% increase in violent crime, and that’s why all the rest of the state is enjoying a 40-year to 41 year low. And, so those really challenges time when they’re cutting your budget during those spikes in population, spikes in calls for service went up 31%.  Conversely, the tourist population goes up 31%…and you brought up some new military personnel.  We talked about that. Our permanent population grows about 5%, so all those challenges, you know, if we were doing less work, crime rates going down, you could see budget cuts. When all those things are going in the reverse, certainly insurance didn’t decrease.  At the time fuel was not decreasing. It was increasing. And so pensions, you know, you have all these things that are mandated by the state. So it’s not like “well, I’m not going to do that this year. I don’t have to pay for that.” So what we have is a fleet that’s been decimated. At some point, it will be not road-worthy, and so unless you’re replacing forty – fifty cars a year, if you’re not replacing any, at some point, they fail.  Your maintenance costs go up.

The issues are endless. So let’s assume that we work out the financial details and get you the money that you need to do your job, which is a big assumption given all the defense that’s being played against, and really just all the rivalry between the municipal entities and funding.  It’s just…it’s…nobody wants to raise taxes. We’ve talked about it.  We’re conservatives.  We’re not going to raise taxes, but you’ve got to get revenues somewhere.

Let’s assume that we solve that riddle.  Let’s talk about spending that money.  Let’s talk about some of these camera options.  It’s in the news now about putting cameras on your officers and getting that out on the street.  How’s that going to happen?  Well, we did it by, basically, we had our in-car cameras that we were funding in our IT budget.  So, those cameras were really expensive. They’re a little antiquated by today’s technology, and it doesn’t take many years to become antiquated technology.  It happens almost…almost overnight.  It happens very quick, and we had a 43% percent failure rate in-car cameras, and they cost nearly six thousand dollars each; so not replacing those cameras and using those funds towards body cams, which are about $200 to $300 each. So you’re cannibalizing your old IT stuff… Yes.  …you’re old cameras, converting that into a lesser expensive… lesser expensive system, and probably a more, I wouldn’t say accurate system, but certainly a better system.

Let’s talk philosophically for a second.  As I read it as an outsider, it looks like most law enforcement agencies are coming on board. They think it’s going to protect their officers.  It’s going to give a more fair and balanced viewpoint for the public. You guys are always guilty until proven innocent. I find that ironic as a lawyer.  You know, law enforcement officer is always guilty of perpetuating these things or causing these problems and not de-escalating and are not solving the problem. You guys are guilty until proven innocent.  A lot of times the criminal’s got the reverse standard, but from your perspective, these cameras are going to be a fairness issue, I imagine. They’re going to present more real-time information and a better perspective on what exactly happened during these encounters. You’re absolutely right. Right now we are dependent on somebody capturing a portion of what happened on a smartphone or somebody just happens to be by with a camera, and they capture a portion of what happens, and then it’s on the six o’clock news, and then it’s on the national media. We’ve almost advocated a society of determining innocence or guilt in a courtroom or with the jury of our peers, and we’ve given that to the media and the mob. And so if we’re headed that way, which it appears we’re already there, if we are going to have to take that responsibility and give it to the media and the mob, we want to have our officers protected with the whole thing that happened. So the totality of the circumstances that created the environment, that created the reactions, and if we have that, we feel like that we can show citizens the law enforcement officer is the person that is enforcing the law that you’ve asked them to. You know, if it’s not…if we don’t want a law enforced, you know what’s the alternative? If an individual has a warrant for their arrest, you know the current law is that by any means necessary, using force even, on this use-of-force matrix. So what is alternative if we are not going to do…if we’re not going to enforce the law?  You know, we were talking, and I think it’s an interesting…at least interesting to me…I’m not a criminal lawyer, so I don’t I don’t deal with this daily, but the privacy issues are interesting to me. You’ve got law enforcement officers that will be wearing cameras.  Obviously, when they make an account on the street or they’re apprehending somebody, or serving a warrant, they’ve got certain rights and certain obligations, but it gets a little grayer, doesn’t it, when they’re in schools, an individual’s home, maybe in a hospital setting with the privacy rights of others that are at stake, certainly a right of privacy in their home under certain circumstances.

Some of these privacy issues have got to be determined legally in order to set the parameters for you guys, don’t they?

You bring a great point. You know, after Ferguson, you saw the riots, and they continued in New York, and so we get this scream “we need to have body cameras so we can know as a society what our law enforcement officers are doing in our name”…”how are they representing us?”  We want to be able to grade them on that, and so it’s contrary to what we’ve been saying in the state legislator. We don’t want drones flying over us.  We don’t want automatic car tag readers. We don’t want cameras on the roads, even though we just spent billions. There’s actually a bill right now, house bill 571, that would do away it with body cameras. It would do away with automatic car tag readers, that would do away with any surveillance whatsoever of citizens, but they’ve already spent billions as a state on this very thing. So it’s contradictory in its very nature, but back to the privacy issue. Our current policy is that a law enforcement officer has a legal right to be there, even if you’re home, you call for a domestic violence issue or disturbing others.  If an officer has a right to be there. They’re going to record. Now does that make it a public record or not? That’s what we’re gonna have to let the courts to determine. Right now almost anything a law enforcement officer does or an agency produces becomes a public record at some point. How are those going to be used?  A lot of people don’t like the mug shots that are in the local convenience stores where the teacher that was arrested for DUI or whatever the situation.  Why are you putting their paper…their picture in the paper? They’ve not been convicted of anything. And I think even representative Gates has tried to pass a bill or at least will be introducing a bill that unless you’re convicted your mug shots not a public record. Legislator has got to catch up on what is private and what is public.

And that’s going to be a fight that takes some time to sort out, because that’s a pretty gray area.

It is a grey area, and we’ll let the courts determine a lot of it. If we as a law enforcement agency of do not believe something is a criminal or criminal nature or evidentiary value, then we’re going to say no we’re not going to release.  Give us a court order if you believe and let the courts and legal minds decide is this a public record or isn’t it.

Which, as a lawyer, I’ve got to tell you doesn’t bring great confidence to me, because these things get harder and harder.  They don’t get easier.  They become more time-consuming. There are other resources necessary to resolve them.  They get more and more complex. You have entities like the ACLU weighing in. You’ll have minority interest groups weighing in.  You’ll have an awful lot of clutter and a lot of self- proliferating lawyering acts, I predict.  I predicted it as well, but we’ve got to do something to protect not only law enforcement but our citizens from these bias claims.  I saw bias claims as…I was speaking to you earlier about watching this thing on Facebook where they’ve already convicted these officers in this shooting in LA.  In LA, and I saw exactly opposite of what that person’s perspective was on that camera.  What I heard and what I saw was a justified shooting, but it doesn’t matter.  So when you’re talking about does a camera matter or not…Yeah…and only end up are fighting this public opinion battle?

Absolutely. And you know, you can have three people watch the same video. You can have three people see the same event with their own eyes and get three different versions and three different outcomes, so it’s not…it’s not the solution to everyone of these disputes, particularly when you bring in public cynicism.  I mean, I just I feel for you guys, because there is a tremendous bias out there, and it’s not… it’s not just media bias.  It’s the public is biased.  They just…there’s a trust issue.  They look at these videos and say we’re too heavy-handed. Things are escalating too quickly, and before you know it, it’s out of control – and you’re, you’re the responsible end.

And I agree with everything except I believe the bias is media driven. It may not be just media bias, but when, when the public never sees anything good, the only thing that’s been presented to them is something bad…  You know, the media goes across the country is looking for something bad. That’s what sells. Do you include social media as media, because that’s citizen…I see it as citizen driven. And I love the story that you told where if you announce at a school that there’s going to be a singing contest in the front of the school and a fight in the back of school, everyone is going to the back of the every school back school to watch.  And that may be media conditioned, but now that it is conditioned, it’s ingrained into our culture almost. It is. We’d much rather… I think we thrive on conflict and drama. Certainly the media sells conflict and drama. The thing really about with media, they compile a lot of public data whether its arrest records or traffic crashes, or you know, they compile a lot of it, and they turn around and sell it to us. And we buy it.  So it’s, you know, as a society I agree that we…we… if it bleeds, it leads.  I mean that’s been around forever. People want to see the drama.  Right. But how we react to it, you know…crack addicts want crack. Just because they want crack doesn’t mean it’s right to give it them, and the media has some ethical responsibility, you know, on governing themselves.  You know, everything in our country is not bad.

Let’s present some of the good things, most of which are happening. Let’s talk about someplace that I think this is going to get to and you probably will agree at some point.  WE might disagree on the timing but it’s going to ultimately the conspiracy theorists, and they’re going to be like “well, your camera didn’t work, because you destroyed the evidence” or “that wasn’t saved long enough”.  The IT department had a hiccup, and it got deleted or something.

That’s coming.  That’s coming. Right?  And when that when that comes, how do you answer to that?  There’s going to definitely be that time where the video’s not available.  We’re going to come to believe that it’s always available.  In my profession, people think everything is CSI Miami.  You know, it’s like well…  Like it’s overnight.  “Well, why didn’t you solve that?”  I mean…Well you, you just get the satellite imagery, and you do these tests, and it’s done. The forensics are over, but it’s coming, right?

It is. And, uh, I always fall back on the truth. If an officer forgets to turn on his camera, for whatever reason, then he forgot to turn on his camera. We train…we’ve actually made it part of our physical ability training.  We have one of those where you have to pass this test every two, every two, twice a year and so if you’re not physically fit, or part of that is you get description of the call made to you before you even start the exam, the physical fitness exam, and you have to point out the individual that was given to you after you’ve had also exertion, exercise, you know, about halfway through the course, you have to point out the right person. So, you have to have remembered, not forgotten it during your excitement, and it will be the same here.  It will be part of our training that if you’re in a lawful place where you have a lawful right to be, and you’re taking enforcement action, you should turn on your body camera, and some of those won’t be public record, though.  If we’re interviewing a child that’s a sex abuse victim, we’re going to record that, but it’s not going to be a public record.  Right.  If we’re at a hospital, and we’re recording the victim in the hospital for whatever condition they’re in, we’re going to record that, but it’s not going to be a public record. Courtrooms, what was the other… schools.  You know, there’s federal law where we don’t release that video footage of children. We’re going to record it if we’re taking law enforcement action, for a whole number reasons, liability being one of those, complaints, being able to prove that we’re doing what the citizens are asking us to do.  So they’re maybe, there may need to be some law changes…civil citations. I just had this discussion yesterday, or Saturday. You know, basically you have bureaucrats that are saying, in certain authoritative legislative branch,  legislative branch, in a certain the discretionary authority of judicial branch, by saying you know mailbox smashing is no longer illegal, according to civil citation, it’s just an administration infraction. All under the concept that we’re going to lower minority contact with law enforcement…all under the concept that first time misdemeanors go to jail, we’re trying to lower our reciticism rates.  That’s just not true. First time misdemeanors don’t go to jail. I mean there’s a lot of discretion and alternative programs that, you know, if an officer finds a juvenile that’s tagging the side of a school with graffiti, you know, the first time they usually call mom or dad or guardian, and we set up a weekend where the child

can come fix what he’s destroyed. Now, if it’s the 10th time, and he’s part of a gang, and he’s marking off territory for his gang members, that’s another issue, but that discretion has been left to law enforcement and judicial branch and the legislative branch who makes laws on our behalf.  We consent to that. If we’re saying the legislative branch you’re saying that this is a misdemeanor crime.  DJJ is saying no, it’s no longer a misdemeanor crime. It’s an administrative infraction. They don’t have to answer to anybody. The representatives have to answer, so I think you’re assuring the authority of the legislative branch and the discretionary authority of the judicial branch when these bureaucrats decide what’s right and wrong anymore.  It certainly may be in the benefit of a child, but we need to do it through the process…and to the benefit of the community.

Yes.  Because what we forget about a lot of times, I think, in our criminal justice system is the victim.  We forget about them quite frequently, in my opinion.

Well, a pretty complex mess.  It is indeed. It’s a good thing we’ve got folks like you out there working through that.

Well, there’s an old Chinese proverb “may you live in interesting times”.  I think we are certainly there.

Well, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to come down today. You’ve got a lot of things to do, and this isn’t really the highest priority, but I really appreciate you coming by.

Thank you for let me air that.  If there’s any time that we can get an issue out, raise awareness, just give us a holler.

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