ST. PETERSBURG — Body-worn cameras for the city’s police force finally arrived on Thursday.
Officers started wearing the cameras in the field after undergoing training this week. The St. Petersburg Police Department said it will take four to six weeks for all of its 386 uniformed officers to undergo training and be equipped with body cameras.
It took six years for the city to reach this point. St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway showed interest in body cameras when he was hired in 2014, but the department spent years studying the devices.
The chief announced his support in February. Then on Oct. 15, the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved buying the technology after a summer of protests against police violence and racial injustice.
The city chose Axon Body 3 cameras, in part, because Axon assured the department it was able to fully equip the force by the end of the year. That’s a timeframe Mayor Rick Kriseman promised in June during the early days of the protests following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis officer while in police custody.
St. Petersburg will spend $2.6 million in the first year of the program and $1.03 million in each of the next four years for a total of $6.8 million after five years. The cameras will be worn by every uniformed officer and every detective working in uniform while off-duty, such as working security at Tropicana Field.
The Axon Body 3 records non-stop but doesn’t save the video unless it’s activated, the department 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.
The camera will be worn on the outermost uniform shirt, jacket, or vest and must be facing forward at all times, according to the department’s general order.
Officers must also turn the cameras on during traffic and pedestrian stops, while at the scene of a crime in progress, vehicle pursuits and other incidents. They must also turn the camera on for “any situation or incident that the officer, through training and experience, believes should be recorded.”
The cameras do not need to be activated while directing traffic or during court proceedings, during meal breaks or during conversations that could reveal confidential information, such as while talking to a confidential informant.
The department’s 360 vehicles will also have cameras installed that will record 360-degrees around the vehicle, but that process won’t be finished until 2021.
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Several Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies adopted body cameras this year. In August, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said he plans to start issue body cameras to his officers next year. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who had long resisted body cameras, announced in October that he plans to equip all 800 of his deputies in the field.