The controversial police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri, is now prompting police there to wear body cameras. The technology helps capture a candid look at officers' interactions with the public. Right now, there are some local law enforcement agencies working to get the cameras on the streets in the Bay area.
The Tampa Police Department has around 300 dash cameras mounted in their squad cars. Chief Jane Castor tells 10 News that she hopes to be testing the new body camera technology on officers by the end of the year. The officer can wear the camera on his or her uniform or glasses. Castor believes the body cameras are a trend spreading across the country. "Within the next five years, every police officer in the nation will have a body-worn camera on," says Castor.
Castor is leading the charge to get the body cameras for more than 500 of her patrol officers and hopes to have 60 test cameras, on officers in 2014.
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The chief believes when the truth is caught on camera, it could prove what really unfolded in a confrontation between police and the public, like in the recent deadly shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
"Individuals have made up their mind exactly what happened in Ferguson, and no one has all the all of the details yet," Castor says. "Everything the officer sees, the camera sees. And there's just the benefit of getting to see what the officer goes through every day. You have videotape of incidents, when you have a person saying certain things happened, and then you have the officer saying that's not what occurred, you can just watch the video."
Castor insists it's not as simple as finding funding for the cameras that can cost around $1,000 per camera. There's an expense for storing the video, and the department needs to craft a policy when officers can and should be recording.
"If there's no expectation of privacy in public places, but we have our legal team involved when officers can and can't record," Castor says.
The University of South Florida is in the middle of a yearlong study researching the technology's impact on officers in Orlando and bike officers in Miami.
"The assumption is the police use of force and the number of external citizens generated complaints will go down on the officers that have the cameras versus don't have the cameras," says Dr. Wesley Jennings, USF Criminology Department. "It might cost $1,000 per camera, but if it saves one lawsuit then it could more than pay for itself 4 or 5 times over."
USF researchers will wrap up their study by next spring and hope to share their findings with departments and the public by May.
Castor says her officers shouldn't have anything to hide, but expects that behavior will change on both sides of the camera.
"From my perspective, the majority of the change will come from the citizens," says Castor.
Recently, the Sarasota City Commission gave the police department the green light to buy two dozen body cameras with a $36,000 grant. The department tells 10 News they haven't order the cameras yet, but hope to have them on officers by January.
Plant City also voted to fund cameras for officers. The department has been testing at least one camera on the street.
The St. Petersburg Police Department says its looking to add more squad car dash cameras first, but is considering body cameras.