Advertisement
Delay in adding police body cameras should not be permanent | Editorial
St. Petersburg and Tampa reasonably put off efforts to prepare for tax revenue declines.
St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway demonstrates the body camera that he and six officers will be testing during an upcoming pilot program. If all goes well with the pilot, the chief said he will ask the mayor and City Council to fund a body camera program.
St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway demonstrates the body camera that he and six officers will be testing during an upcoming pilot program. If all goes well with the pilot, the chief said he will ask the mayor and City Council to fund a body camera program. [ KATHRYN VARN | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 4, 2020

With local tax revenue certain to decline because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s understandable St. Petersburg and Tampa have put on hold their efforts to start equipping police officers with body cameras. Every expense that can be delayed should be reviewed by local governments until they get a better handle on how deep the revenue losses will become as they plan for the next budget year that begins Oct 1. But that doesn’t mean police body cameras should be forgotten.

It looked like St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway was finally going to take a step toward using body cameras after comments he made in late February. But now coronavirus has brought any efforts to a screeching halt. It’s important that public officials remember their priorities even if they have to be put off for a bit.

Holloway first tentatively endorsed body cameras for St. Petersburg police officers more than five years ago. The police chief’s fledgling body camera program was finally set to start with a pilot of only six officers, including the chief himself. The officers were to wear the body cameras for 45 days, but coronavirus put the program on hold. There is no rescheduled date and the department is still waiting for shirts to be available. Instructors were also supposed to fly in for hands-on training, but that is no longer happening. These body cameras are specific in nature: they start to save video once an officer pulls out their firearm or Taser. At that point, the camera will store footage from two minutes prior to the incident. While Holloway could not say how much he thought outfitting all 450 uniformed officers would cost, but guessed at around $500,000.

St. Petersburg isn’t the only city putting body cameras on hold because of the cloudy budget picture. Tampa was further along in experimenting, but it has delayed equipping all of its police officers with body cameras. City officials for now have put off a signing a $5 million contract, which would have spent $1 million this year to equip 600 officers. That doesn’t mean the postponement should be permanent.

In 2018, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicated that about 89 police departments and 20 Sheriff’s Offices in Florida used body cameras. The Pasco and Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Tampa and Gulfport police departments, have at least experimented with body cameras in recent months. That leaves the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the Clearwater Police Department as hold-outs.

Body cameras are an important tool for any law enforcement agency, and they can provide protection for the police officers as well as anyone who winds up in a confrontation that turns violent or deadly. It is body camera footage that has shed light on two recent questionable incidents of the Baker Act in Florida schools. And it is body camera footage that helped officials better understand the Parkland school shooting after it unfolded. Body camera footage gives us context for the minutes before an officer acts.

There will be other priorities that local governments will put off as the impact of the pandemic on tax revenue becomes clearer. Tough choices will have to be made. But police body cameras should be one of those priorities that should be temporarily delayed rather than abandoned.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge