Gulfport police to update body camera policy

GULFPORT, Florida – In light of the recent police-related shooting death of Michael Brown and the homicide of Eric Garner in New York, Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent said his department is currently reviewing current policies on body cameras.

Vincent said his department has been using body cameras for the last five years, and that there are eight units in use for the 31 officers on the force. Originally, the body cameras were purchased as a way to save money, and were used by officers who did not have in-car cameras.

However, Vincent said recent public scrutiny of police is forcing departments nationwide to reevaluate when and how officers use the technology.

"Those incidents [like Ferguson] have prompted police across the country to look closer at all of their recording instruments—car cameras, body cameras, etc.," said Vincent. "The new policy may require that everyone either have an in-car camera or a body camera. That's probably the direction we're going to go."

Vincent said he is also reviewing recommendations and reports from the International Association of Chiefs of Police as well as the Police Executive Research Forum to help guide the department's decision-making process.

Read the International Association of Chiefs of Police's statement on the Ferguson grand jury decision here.

While having video can help resolve disputes over what may or may not have happened during an officer-involved incident, Vincent said his department must define boundaries when it comes to recording.

"Some of the biggest concerns or questions: Should all police officers have to carry or wear these cameras all the time? Or should they be optional under certain circumstances? When they do have the cameras, should they record everything, certain things, or should it be at the officer's discretion?"

These are all questions Vincent said Gulfport must figure out when updating its camera policy. One Gulfport officer who wears body cameras said he only records when there is something happening that he needs to investigate, and that his camera isn't running at all times.

Vincent added that if the department decides to have officers use more body cameras and record more incidents, increased recording would also mean increased cost, as it would require additional storage space, and could even require an additional employee to handle video organization as well as media and Freedom of Information requests.

Learn how to request free records and information from police and other government agencies here.

Right now, the body cameras are optional, but Vincent said that could soon change. He said he encourages community feedback on the issue, and hopes whatever decision is made will help boost public trust and transparency within the department.

"I just like to be open with my community," said Vincent, who would like to have a new policy in place by January 2015.

Read Chief Vincent's blog on Ferguson and body cameras here.


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