TAMPA — An on-again, off-again effort to add body cameras to Tampa Police Department officers is back on again.
Mayor Jane Castor announced Tuesday the city would complete previously disclosed plans to purchase 650 cameras. The money will come from refinancing three existing bond obligations expected to free up $40.9 million to help soften multi-year budget constraints because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tampa City Council will be asked to approve the refinancing deal Thursday morning.
The immediate impact, however, will be the ability to restart the body camera program that the city delayed just two months ago because of the pandemic and an expected $23 million deficit from lost tax revenue this year.
The aim, Castor said, is to enhance transparency.
"We’re always looking for new ways to enhance that level of trust, and one of those is through transparency,'' Castor said.
The timing of the announcement is unrelated to the weekend civil protests that turned to looting and vandalism, Castor said. Authorities arrested 70 people during the weekend’s unrest in Tampa and tallied damage to at least 40 businesses.
Castor promised to expand the body camera program during her mayoral campaign and pointed out she was police chief in 2014 when the department started that pilot program outfitting 60 officers with cameras.
“I would joke that ‘pilot’ was French for we don’t have the money,’’ Castor said Tuesday.
The city of Tampa has already signed a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Axon to purchase 650 blue-tooth activated cameras, one for every uniformed officer through the rank of corporal. Of that cost, about $1 million would have come from this year’s budget. All of the cameras were going to be distributed to personnel by the end of this year, the city said previously. Last year, Castor announced that the city had landed a nearly $600,000 federal grant to help fund the expansion.
Then the coronavirus hit. Castor said the body camera purchase was one of the projects frozen as a money saver and the city asked Axon to put the contract on hold. The contract also included a $500,000 expenditure for Tasers that was not delayed.
Last year, Castor announced that the city had landed a nearly $600,000 federal grant to help fund the expansion. Combined, the cameras and Tasers are a $7.9 million five-year expense for the city.
The new revenue from the bond refinancing shouldn’t be considered a panacea to the city’s budget woes, said Dennis Rogero, the city’s chief financial officer.
"We’re going to be looking into some serious deficit in 2021, 2022,'' said Castor. "It’s not like we’re cashing a check for $40 million.''