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Dashboard cameras in patrol cars useful but expensive

TAMPA — Officer David Crawford didn't have a dashboard camera on his police car. Most St. Petersburg police cars don't.

In tight budgetary times, that's no surprise. Cameras cost about $5,000 each, authorities say.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office has no dashboard cameras. Pasco County has only six. The Tampa Police Department used a federal grant to equip nearly half of its 770 patrol cars but had to stop last year.

The grant money has been going toward officer salaries to avoid layoffs, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

"We simply can't afford it," she said.

Tampa police know the value of dashboard cameras. One recorded the July 29 shooting of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during a traffic stop.

The video showed a male shooter, which along with other evidence at the scene helped Tampa police identify a suspect within minutes: Dontae Morris.

It's unclear whether a camera in Crawford's car would have caught the shooter's face.

Similar questions arose in December, after the fatal shooting of Orange County sheriff's Deputy Brandon Coates.

Coates' patrol car was not equipped with a camera, and within weeks, the Orange County mayor met with the sheriff to discuss purchasing more of them.

The Orange County sheriff wants deputies to have cameras that clip on uniforms, said a spokesman, Capt. Angelo Nieves. Nothing is yet in the works.

"It's extremely cost prohibitive," he said.

At both the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the only cars equipped with cameras are for DUI enforcement.

Recordings of failed sobriety tests may reduce contested charges or be used to persuade a jury, said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin, who noted, "Defendants don't always realize their state of inebriation."

The threat of being recorded can also convince suspects to behave, said Tampa police union spokesman Rick Cochran. If people think a camera is rolling, they're less likely to lash out.

"But to kill an officer — that's just a different kind of human being who could do that," he said. "I doubt there's anything out there that would curtail what they're going to do."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Dashboard cameras in patrol cars useful but expensive 02/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 3:14pm]
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