Study: Officers with body cameras less likely to use force

- When and where Tampa police should use their body-worn cameras was the topic of discussion at Tuesday night's Citizens Review Board Meeting. Board members got a demonstration from officers, revealing the pros and cons of the cameras.

In early 2015, 60 Tampa police officers began using body cameras. University of South Florida researchers tracked the officers. The study concluded that officers who wear body cameras are less likely to use force.

"Physical use of force, from the pre-implementation to post body-worn camera implementation decreased 8.4%, a reduction of approximately 20 physical force incidents," said Captain Anthony Zambito during a presentation of the results before board members.

Chairman Rasheed Ali Aquil said it seemed the cameras are making a difference, causing both officers and citizens to avoid physical confrontations.

"I think when there's witnesses or a recording being involved, and you have to take responsibility for your actions, I think we get the best out of people," said Aquil.

Board member Lincoln Tamayo, along with Tampa Police representatives, pointed out a flaw in the findings. They said the study did not mention that of the 641 officers not wearing body cameras, use of force incidents went down by 12% over the last year, a bigger decline than those equipped with cameras.

They credited the change to diversity training officers have undergone in the last year.

Board members questioned when an officer is required to turn on their cameras, because the device does not record an entire shift.

"If it's a criminal investigation, they're going to have it on. If it's a potentially violent of suspicious circumstance, they're going to put it on for their safety," explained Zambito.

Vehicle or foot pursuits and any physical arrest were among the list of instances where officers would be required to hit record. The device automatically records 30 seconds of video prior to the officer turning on the camera.

Officers said the reason for their inability to keep the cameras rolling is due to the lack of space, and money, to store such a large amount of video on their data storage system through Evidence.com.

The digital storage space is costly, and some videos, depending on the nature of the case, must be stored for up to two years.

Zambito said if every officer was given a body camera, the equipment and storage of the video would cost the city an estimated $800,000 annually.

Board members also got a demonstration on the limitations the cameras have in capturing all of the action during a call.

An officer stood in front of three board members and asked them questions while his body camera was recording. The officer played the video back to the board members, showing that although he was standing right in front of them, at times, the camera did not pick up their faces.

"I was very surprised that you really don't get the entire perspective of what an officer is seeing and experiencing," said Tamayo.

The 60 officers involved in the USF study are currently the only officers wearing body cameras.

The department is working to find a grant that can help pay for more cameras in the future.
 

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