Sunday, September 23, 2018
Public safety

Romano: Time is up chief, make a call on police body cameras

Excuse me chief, but it's time to take a stand.

If we're being honest, it's way past time.

Look, I know you've gotten rave reviews since assuming control of the St. Petersburg Police Department in 2014. Everybody, it seems, has good things to say about Tony Holloway.

Residents seem generally happy, the rank-and-file are mostly content and the politicians are thrilled. Heaven knows it ain't easy to please everyone across the board like that.

So good on you. The city is certainly lucky to have you.

But this dash/body camera waffling has got to stop.

The City Council voted last week to have further discussion about buying dashboard cameras for 15 new police cars because, well, that's what St. Pete's council does. If ever a government entity needed a case of Red Bull, it's those folks.

The bigger issue is that you let them do it. Not technically, of course. They voted on their own to delay the purchase for six weeks or so. But they only did it because you appeared so indecisive.

Whenever a council member asked your opinion you did a lot of hemming and a little hawing. You said you weren't crazy about dashboard cams. And you're still unsure about body cams. But you feel as if promises have been made to residents. And there's still research to do. And there's the cost. And . . .

Enough!

If you don't want cameras, look people in the eye and say it.

And if you do want cameras, demand the funds from council.

Because, honestly, it feels like you're playing both sides of the issue.

Let's go back to 2014 when you said that you were interested in doing a trial run with body cameras the following May. That never happened. But in 2015 you announced that cameras were being placed in 15 police cars, and every other new one would be similarly equipped. Except that's now on hold. And in 2016 you were co-chair on a body camera task force that presented its findings at the American Bar Association's criminal justice meeting. Yet for some reason your own department is still doing research.

Believe me, I know this is a contentious issue. You can see it right here in Tampa Bay.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has dashboard cameras, but Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is dead set against body cameras. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office does not have dashboard cameras, but swears by body cameras. The Tampa Police Department uses both. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has neither.

Personally, I think cameras are a terrific idea.

Not because the majority of cops need to be monitored, but because advanced technology should always be embraced. And mounting evidence indicates body cameras make for less frivolous complaints from the public, and less use-of-force incidents from law enforcement.

Polls also indicate that a majority of citizens are in favor of cameras. And if cameras are utilized by police as valuable tools in high-crime areas, then they should be just as valuable in face-to-face encounters.

Makes sense, right?

But, no matter how much I type, my opinion does not carry much weight in this argument. Certainly, not as much as yours. You're the expert; you're the chief; you're the guy we trust.

And we need to know what you think.

Do not equivocate over budget concerns. Do not hide behind more studies and white papers. Do not leave it up to the City Council to make this important decision.

Do you believe cameras will help?

If the answer is no, then explain it to residents.

If the answer is yes, then explain it to the council.

Comments
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