Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Public safety

Gulfport police already use body cameras, but will review policy

GULFPORT — Body cameras, the topic du jour for law enforcement agencies across the country, are nothing new for the Gulfport Police Department. Chief Robert Vincent said his officers have used them for about five years.

As departments across the country hastily take up the technology following the police shooting of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., this year, Vincent is looking to review Gulfport's existing policies, last updated in 2013.

Vincent wrote in a blog post Wednesday that he wants to hear from city residents on three questions:

• Should all officers wear a body camera, or should it be optional?

• Should officers with body cameras record all official conduct, some specific conduct, or should they have discretion?

• Should officers inform people when they are being recorded?

"Each of these, of course, has pros and cons," the chief wrote. "A 'record everything' policy, for example, could be extremely burdensome in terms of the workload associated with retrieving and storing the video. The storage costs would also become very expensive very quickly."

As of now, Vincent said, body cameras in Gulfport are an alternative to more expensive in-car recording systems. He said they cost about a fifth of an in-car system, so the body cameras have primarily "been used by officers who are assigned vehicles that do not have in-car camera systems." According to Vincent, school resource officers also use the cameras to record physical interactions with students.

"So far, we have had some pretty good results, and I am not aware of any negative impacts on the officers or the people being recorded," he said.

Vincent is not the only area police chief to express reservation about body cameras. In St. Petersburg, Chief Tony Holloway said his department will likely try out the cameras next May or June, but he remains unconvinced of their effectiveness. Across the bay, Plant City police, among the earliest local adopters of the technology, have not yet moved forward from a trial phase. Tampa police are in the process of reviewing proposals from camera companies. Clearwater police will try a pilot program in the spring.

Vincent said he is also concerned about forcing officers to fiddle with cameras in emergency situations and about how recording may affect victims or suspects giving statements.

"At this point, we just don't know how people will react if they know that everything they say to a police officer will be recorded," he wrote in the blog.

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.

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