Sarasota pushes police body camera program over past hurdles

With police actions increasingly under scrutiny, many departments are speeding the process of equipping every officer with a body camera.

Sarasota Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie said the cameras are needed now, more than ever.

"We are at a disadvantage as an agency because we don’t have this tool," Freeland Eddie said.

The Sarasota Police Department has wanted to equip officers with cameras for years. Vice Mayor Freeland Eddie said the public wants them, also.

"They've always been supportive of it and they’ve always wanted it, our problem has been ensuring privacy and cost," she said.

In 2014, the department actually purchased 24 body cameras after Chief Bernadette DiPino secured a $36,000 grant to pay for them. Legal and privacy concerns, along with the cost of storing and redacting video, shelved the cameras.

"It just is a benefit because it shows what the police officer does, it captures the incident and allows police officers to accurately depict what’s happening from the video and put in their police reports," said Chief DiPino.

Over the last two years, the city commission continued to invest in the camera program, hoping to find a way around the privacy and legal issues. Commissioners have set aside $500,000 so far.

The annual estimated cost ranges between $713,000 to $833,000 to buy, manage, and maintain the program.

"This allows us to continue the transparency of our agency, it will also allow us to show what police officers are doing. If we find that there is something in the video we can learn about whether we need to add training or identify issues in our community," said Chief DiPino.

Commissioners agreed unanimously: body cameras are necessary to show the full picture of what police officers encounter and Sarasota police need them.

"This isn’t to create a particular outcome this is to aid law enforcement and using another tool to get to the truth," said Commissioner Freeland Eddie.