PINELLAS PARK — Six officers are testing body-worn cameras that could be adopted by their fellow officers at the Pinellas Park Police Department.
If the 6-week pilot is successful, says Sgt. John Shae, the department would join a growing list of Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies issuing body cameras to its patrol officers.
Pinellas Park is using body cameras made by Axon Enterprise, Inc., which also makes Taser electroshock devices and other law enforcement equipment. The six cameras issued to officers are worn by officers in the middle of their chest and are activated by quick motions, and whenever an officer unholsters their handgun or Taser.
Shae said the trial was a vital next step in getting Pinellas Park up to “industry standard." The decision to test body cameras was made in the interests of improving police transparency, he said, and not in response to the ongoing protests against police violence.
“The overall trend in law enforcement is being driven toward the transparency for the citizens that we serve as law enforcement officers," Shae said. "People want to see what we do, and for them to see, they need to see that front-line video and that provides them with the true dictation of what occurred.”
The Axon Body 3 — the model also being used in a trial by the Tampa Police Department — records non-stop but doesn’t save the video unless it’s activated, Shae said. Once the cameras are activated, it will save the previous 30 seconds of what was recorded before it was activated, and everything from that point on.
Shae said that the department opted to not test body cameras that record continuously because there isn’t a need to record officers throughout their workdays. He said storing large video files could be an issue for the city.
“With any video, you have to have storage,” Shae said. “Unfortunately this stuff needs a lot of storage and data ... If an officer is just sitting in their car, what is the need to record?”
The sergeant said the department does not yet know how much it would cost to equip its officers with cameras. The entire force is 101 officers total, but police officials don’t yet know which would get the cameras, either.
The six officers testing the cameras include a canine officer, a traffic officer, a community redevelopment officer and three patrol officers.
“We have dedicated officers doing exceptional work under stressful situations,” said Pinellas Park Chief Michael Haworth in a prepared statement. “This technology is another tool that will allow us to accurately report these interactions”.
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Body cameras have been adopted by several local law enforcement agencies this year.
The most recent convert is Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has long resisted bringing body cameras to the biggest law enforcement agency in the county. But he’s recently been researching the technology and on Oct. 2 told the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board that he will soon have 30 deputies trying them out in the field.
If the test run is successful, he said he’ll issue cameras to all 800 of his deputies in the field. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is also using Axon cameras. Five of seven Pinellas County Commissioners told the Times they support spending $3 million annually on the program.
St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said he’ll soon recommend a body camera vendor for his officers to the City Council. In August, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said he plans to start issue body cameras to his officers next year.