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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa police video shows body camera footage 'you won't see on the evening news'



A tire change. A gator wrangling. An air-borne football hurtling toward a kid’s open hands.

A profanity-laced traffic stop. A foot chase. A fleeing suspect smashing through a glass door.

Video footage of these incidents, captured on police body cameras, were compiled by Tampa police in a video montage to illustrate for the public what a day in the life of a law enforcement officer looks like.

A description beneath the video outlines its purpose:

“When you see body camera video on the news, it is typically something perceived as negative, but those are isolated, RARE incidents that don’t really capture the majority of officers and what we deal with on a daily basis. As police officers, we see people at their best, but more often, at their worst. This is the community’s first look at what a police officer’s job is really like – it’s kind of like riding shotgun with an officer.”

In the year and a half since a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., the conversation surrounding police brutality, accountability and how body cameras could aid both has dominated the public sphere. Advocates say the technology offers both officers and the public protection against false accusations and questionable police practices. It’s a tool for justice, they say.

"We give our deputies Kevlar vests to protect them from bullets, but we had nothing to give them to protect them from people holding up cellphones and slicing the video and only showing 30 seconds of an altercation that was actually 30 minutes long," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco told the Times in October.

Several Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies have introduced the technology to their departments. For the last year, 60 of the Tampa Police Department’s 1,000 officers have worn the body cameras as part of a University of South Florida study.

The idea for the compilation video, released Thursday on YouTube, grew out of a mounting frustration among department officials that the body camera footage often featured in the news depicts just one side of law enforcement, said spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

“It can be frustrating for people who work in law enforcement,” she said. “It’s what everybody is talking about, but it’s an isolated incident. It doesn’t really show what officers deal with on a daily basis.”

The montage better depicts what really happens, Davis said.

The footage selected for the video was carefully sorted and edited by department officials, and the cameras that collected the footage were worn by just 6 percent of the department’s officers. All are patrol officers who volunteered to wear the cameras, Davis said, a mandate of the study.

Canine officers do not wear the cameras, a point of contention in a recent case where an 18-year-old man fleeing police was shot and killed by Officer Jimmy Houston after he allegedly attempted to drown the officer’s police dog in a swampy area of Tampa. Houston was not wearing a body camera.

Though the year-long USF study is almost complete, Davis said the department has not made any decisions on what it will do next regarding body cameras. No extra money has been allotted in the department’s budget to expand use of body cameras throughout the force.

“We want to make sure we have everything together before we make a huge financial decision like that,” Davis said.

She cited evolving technology, legal issues and pending legislation as factors being considered.

In Tallahassee, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require law enforcement agencies in Florida that use body cameras to create a set of rules for how to maintain the cameras and store the footage, though it stops short of requiring agencies to use the cameras.

Of the 301 police departments in Florida, 18 have body cameras in use and 10 others were operating pilot programs, according to data the Florida Police Chiefs Association provided the Legislature in October.

Nationwide, about one-third of police agencies use body cameras.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016 7:45pm]


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