Tampa Council gives police body cams pilot program a thumbs-up

Paralleling police departments across the country, including a couple in the Tampa Bay area, the Tampa Police Department is poised to begin using body cams, albeit initially in a test-run capacity. This morning Tampa City Council unanimously gave Police Chief Jane Castor their blessing to purchase 60 police body cameras.

The cameras have become increasingly popular among law enforcement, especially in the wake of several incidents in which deadly police violence against unarmed African-American men was not only questioned, but vehemently protested. 

Purchase of the cameras from Taser International and a five-year contract with the company will cost $83,845, the bulk of which goes toward digitally storing all of the accumulated evidence on Evidence.com, Castor said. 

The 60 cameras would be divided evenly among the city's three police districts and given to officers who volunteer to wear them. Notable incidents that happen on each shift will be catalogued, Castor said, including "officer injuries ... citizen complaints [and] use of force incidents." There will also be a control group of 60 officers, also divided evenly, who will be similarly monitored. Researchers from USF will crunch numbers and compare those of the camera-wearers with the control group, as is being done in a global study on police body cameras.

The Council asked the department to come back on June 25 for an update on the program's effectiveness, and was, for the most part, positive.

“I think wearing these cameras, unscientifically, will be a benefit, both to the officers themselves and to the public, and I hope that this goes well,” said Councilwoman Lisa Montelione.

Castor said Tampa police officers seem to like the idea of wearing cameras throughout their shifts.

“I think most officers are in agreement with the camera systems, the body-worn cameras, so that there can be an accurate depiction, portrait of what they're doing out there on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Officers are involved in a lot of different activities during any given shift, and they're in favor of having this information available so there won't be questions in most cases of what occurred.”

Although the council was generally amenable, there were some points about which some members were skeptical, namely what happens when an officer doesn't turn his or her camera on during an incident.

She said there will be three types of situations in which the cameras will be used, and officers will be held responsible if they fail to use a camera in appropriate situations.

“We do have specific guidelines as to when they will be filmed, situations that will be filmed," Castor told the Council. "And if they're not, the officer has to articulate why.”

The two other departments in the Tampa Bay area that use, or are about to use, body cameras, are the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the Temple Terrace Police Department. Those that haven't agreed to adopt them yet include the St. Pete Police Department, as well as the Hillsborough and Pinellas Sheriff's offices.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.