In the wake of the high-profile police confrontations with citizens in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, there has been a clamoring for local police departments to begin wearing body cameras, to provide video evidence in case such an incident gets out of control. The selling point is that it can be a valuable tool to protect officers accused of abuse as well as private citizens subjected to harassment, abuse or in some cases, death.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor told the City Council recently that the TPD will purchase 60 cameras to employ for a pilot program later this year. Temple Terrace officers already use such cameras as well.
This morning St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway came before the St. Petersburg City Council to tell them that he's studying various proposals from vendors for a pilot project in St. Pete, but he didn't sound that enthusiastic about their effectiveness.
"It's a good tool," the chief acknowledged, but he sounded like it was almost not worth the trouble, mentioning how one officer involved in a shooting failed to turn on his camera, prompting critics to ask what he was hiding in doing. "It won't change behavior," he insisted.
That incident in question happened in New Orleans back in August, when an officer shot a man in the forehead during a traffic stop. Only much later did the New Orleans Police Dept. reveal that the officer had turned off her body camera before the shooting incident.
Holloway also said in some cases, citizens — such as complainants or drug informants — might be uncomfortable or less open when talking to officers while wishing to remain anonymous.
But City Councilman Wengay Newton wasn't buying his objections, nor were the handful of citizens who spoke in support of body cameras.
"If you’re a good officer, you shouldn’t fear that camera," said Robert Robinson, a retired PSTA bus driver who had cameras filming him for years while he was on the job. He added that he didn't understand the chief's objections.
"The privacy of every citizen is important, but not at the expense of the protection of peace," said the Reverend J.C. Sanders. He said such technology protects the officer, the citizen and the community, and would be more feasible than the purchase of high-powered weaponry.
Chief Holloway says that once he reviews the different systems available, he will go ahead and institute a pilot program, having officers on the midnight and evening shifts wear them to see how they photograph under different circumstances.