Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced earlier this month that he’s considering body cameras for his deputies.
Gualtieri has, in the past, been reluctant about the use of body cameras. However, after the George Floyd protests, many police departments and law enforcement agencies around the country are re-examining their policies – including the use of body cameras.
Since June, over 2,300 people have signed an online petition calling for officer accountability in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office, in the form of body cameras.
Gulfport, however, has been a leader in officer accountability for the past 20 years. The Gulfport Police Department started using in-car video cameras and then adopted body camera technology.
“We were among the first in Tampa Bay to deploy in-car cameras, and we remain one of the few to have them in every patrol vehicle,” GPD Police Chief Rob Vincent told the Gabber.
Approximately 10 years ago, Vincent visited the Lake Mary Police Department as a member of an accreditation assessment team and saw a motorcycle officer using a body camera. After watching the footage from the camera, Vincent was impressed with the quality and the perspective the camera gave.
“I was impressed that it allowed a view inside the vehicle during a traffic stop – something the in-car system was incapable of doing,” said VIncent.
The body cameras cost the police department about 75% less than the in-car systems.
The department initially bought eight cameras as a trial run. Two cameras were assigned to school resource officers and the others were made available to any officer who wanted to use them.
After the initial evaluation, the GPD decided that the body cameras would not work as a substitute for in-car cameras.
The body cameras “had plenty of advantages, but the biggest concern was that they could only be activated manually,” said Vincent. “They did not have automatic activation triggers like the in-car systems (they start recording when the emergency lights/siren are activated).”
By 2016 the GPD had a total of 13 body cameras used by officers in the field.
Most recently, the department has migrated to a WatchGuard Video system, which pairs body cameras with in-car cameras. The cameras are synchronized and both have automatic activation triggers.
GPD officers are required to record any stop, detention or arrest as long as time and circumstances permit. GPD officers are prohibited from recording when privacy is expected, such as in restrooms. In any other situation, the decision to record is at the officer’s discretion.
If the officer decides to stop recording, before they turn off the camera they must clearly state on camera they are stopping video and give a reason, according to Vincent.
In the event the officer doesn’t hit the record button immediately, the WatchGuard Video system has no delay between the officer’s actions and the feed recording. The system monitors a constant stream, and saves approximately 30 seconds prior to the recording and 30 seconds after.
“Throughout all of this, we have not had any pushback from the officers. Mostly they are happy to have videos that exonerate them when people make false or exaggerated accusations,” said Vincent.
“As we update the patrol car fleet, these systems will be installed in every vehicle. This means that all patrol officers will eventually wear body cameras. Right now we are just over halfway there.”
Updates to the fleet happen on a cyclical basis, with three to four vehicles replaced at a time, as needed. Vincent expects to have the new technology in all vehicles by 2024, at the latest.
Find more information on the GPD’s newest body camera and in-car camera technology at watchguardvideo.com.