More agencies turning to body cameras to increase transparency

Multiple law enforcement agencies in the bay area are taking steps to become more transparent by launching pilot programs or purchasing body cameras for officers.

At the Tampa Police Department, officers will start training on new body worn cameras this month, with the program fully up and running in August.

The money to buy the new equipment was approved in early June. Now, 650 brand new body cameras are at Tampa Police Headquarters. It is a huge upgrade for the department, currently only 60 recording devices are on the streets.

“If there’s a police officer in the city of Tampa that doesn’t want a body-worn camera, then I suggest you turn your badge in,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said in June.

It’s a sentiment held by many law enforcement agencies across Tampa Bay.

A body camera system for the Temple Terrace Police Department was approved last week, and is expected to be operational by early fall.

In Manatee County, the Bradenton Police Department launched a pilot program this week. Twelve officers will be testing technology from three different vendors.

“We want to make sure we maintain transparency and trust with our citizens in our community, so we figured this would be a good time to get the ball rolling, and we’re moving pretty quick,” Captain Brian Thiers with the Bradenton Police Department said.

The St. Petersburg Police Department started testing body-worn cameras last month. This week, the agency expanded its trial to include two companies. The pilot program is expected to wrap up at the end of August, and the chief will make a recommendation to city leaders before October.

“This is just another layer that says that we're responsible for our actions and this is how we're going to make sure there's accountability,” said SPPD Chief Anthony Holloway in June.

Last month, the Hillsborough County Commission gave the sheriff’s office the green-light to outfit deputies with body cameras. HCSO is getting quotes, but plans to have the program up and running this year.

In Clearwater, city council discussed outfitting 185 uniform officers with body cameras at their meeting Thursday night.

Police Chief Daniel Slaughter tells FOX 13 News less than 3% of arrests made by the department involve any type of force, and he believes building trust with a community does not happen through technology. 

“The NFL has the best cameras in the world and they still can’t figure out it if was a fumble or not,” he said.  “So cameras don’t solve all of these issues, they still are limited to a perspective, they get blocked, they get knocked off.”

City Council plans to take a closer look at the cost of the body camera program at their budget work session later this month, and could take a vote at the August 7th meeting.