TAMPA — With the help of a federal grant, at least 600 Tampa police officers will be wearing blue-tooth activated body cameras within a few years, Mayor Jane Castor announced Friday.
The U.S. Department of Justice grant of nearly $600,000 will help expand the program from its current pilot status of 60 officers, which Castor began when she was police chief in 2014. The mayor’s first budget, approved by City Council this week, also includes $1.1 million to bolster the initiative.
Castor thanked the city’s federal partners for the grant and said she was “very excited” by the avalanche of federal largesse in recent weeks. Tampa has been the recipient of more than $4-million in federal grants in the past three weeks, most of it to keep lowering violent crime rates, she said.
The mayor’s police leadership applauded the move.
“We want to make a great department even greater with these cameras. It goes to transparency,'' said assistant chief Elias Vazquez. "One of the most important things in 21st century modern law enforcement is to have public trust, and to build public trust you need to have relationships. So this goes a long way toward building those relationships.”
The body camera grant will allow the city to equip officers with cordless blue-tooth activated cameras that will automatically turn on if an officer’s holster is connected. The cameras will be on unless the officer announces it will be turned off. That announcement will be recorded, said police department spokesman Steve Hegarty.
A 2017 Justice Department grant was rolled out in June that allows the police department to use audio technology to identify where a gun has been fired within 25 meters. The program is now operational in a 3-square-mile section of the city that officials declined to identify. It has already helped police respond more quickly to shootings, said Capt. Paul Lusczynski, commander of the violent crime bureau.
“We’ve already responded to three shootings that we weren’t called about where we found people shot,” Lusczynski said. He said that has helped officers render aid and hone their intelligence of areas that need more attention.
Other grants will help pay overtime, among other measures, to help police reduce violent crime.
Officer Kayla Chavis, who wears a body camera, said it has helped knock down bogus complaints and captures the entire event, not split-second video clips.
Chavis often records statements from witnesses after informing them the camera is on.
“That keeps them more truthful than not,” she said.
The blue-tooth feature only works if the body cam is connected to a holster or other equipment. Officers will also have to turn them on manually in some situations.