St. Pete PD evaluates cost, logistics of body cameras

Body cameras are at the center of an ongoing debate in St. Petersburg and it came to a head during a city council meeting Thursday.

Some residents think officers should wear them, for accountability, after nationwide incidents of police shootings involving white officers and black men.

But people against the use of body cameras said the money is better spent elsewhere.

St. Petersburg police tried a test of the devices in August but ran into technical difficulties.

The body cameras would be worn on the officer’s chest and it would start recording 30 seconds or more prior to the officer pulling a firearm or stun gun.

The use-of-force activation means the camera would not record all the time, however, the officer would also be able to press the record button if needed.

“The camera that we’re looking at, it is not a gun camera. It’s a body camera,” said Chief Anthony Holloway, of the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Supporters of the cameras said it will bring transparency and accountability, but those against them argue it’s a waste of money.

“As far as that we are out hunting black males is just ludicrous, and it kind of angers me that it keeps getting brought up,” said George Lofton, president of Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association.

“You don’t think that it’s that big a deal because it hasn’t happened to you,” said resident Joshua Wright. “It hasn’t happened to me yet. I don’t what it to happen to me.”

Chief Holloway said there are already checks in place, like the citizen review committee.

“Last year, we made 10,000 arrests, 10,000 arrests. And every time we used force, we used force 960 times. Now, if you tell me two people, only two people filed a formal complaint, what does that tell you? It sounds like we’re doing our jobs,” said Holloway.

There are storage and money issues too, as the chief estimates implementing body cameras would cost over $4 million over five years. But the chief said it’s a debate worth having. 

“We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to make this work because the body cameras aren’t the end-all, be-all. Just by me putting these body cameras on these officers, that’s not going to solve the problem,” said Holloway.

The police chief said he’s not sure when the company will have the glitch on the body cameras fixed. But as soon as it is, he said the department will try them out for 60 days. St. Petersburg City Council will have the final say on whether to approve the body cameras.