TPD eyeing major body camera expansion

The Tampa Police Department is pushing for a major expansion of its body camera program, hoping to put cameras on 10 times as many officers.

With the backing of its police chief-turned-mayor, the department is applying for a $300,000 Department of Justice grant to buy body cameras for 600 of 974 officers. 

Only 60 wear them now.

"If you are doing the right thing and somebody falsely accuses you of saying or doing something, let's look at the body cam," said Tampa Police spokesperson Steve Hegarty. "So it can be your best friend. If you are not doing what you should be doing, it could end your career."

TPD is making the move two months after an officer was fired for turning off his body cam during an investigation.

Later on, someone claimed the officer had threatened him. But when supervisors tried to look at the entire encounter, they couldn't. 

The ACLU cites community support in its backing of the cameras, saying watchful eyes work.

"There are not as many instances of force being used for officers who have body cameras," said ACLU attorney Jacqueline Azis. "That is always a good thing."

TPD would add three staffers to handle all the video and to make sure officers are using it properly. The video will be stored for 90 days unless it becomes evidence. Then it will be stored forever.

"We are going to have a lot of video. We need to store it, we need to store it properly. We need to know what we need to keep," said Hegarty.

A storage system for the video could cost several million dollars, which would not be paid for by the grant. TPD finds out if it's awarded the funds in the fall.