LAKELAND, Fla. — The Lakeland Police Department is the latest law enforcement agency in the Tampa Bay region to adopt the use of body-worn cameras.
All 250 officers are getting body cameras by the end of the month, starting with patrol officers. The agency plans to have many officers outfitted by the New Year's holiday weekend.
Lt. Frank Fitzgerald has been leading the training and distribution of the cameras over the last few weeks. He said it takes about two hours with each officer to train them on the interworking of the camera.
The public call for body cameras rang out loudly in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter of Polk County called for all law enforcement in the county to wear body cameras. Then-Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia said he was open to the suggestion but said cost and finding the right technology are factors
Fast forward to December 2022 and in a 7-0 vote, Lakeland commissioners agreed the city would pay $9.3 million over 10 years for 250 cameras, as well as other pieces of equipment.
That would amount to $938,000 a year, according to commissioners.
The decade-long contract is with Axon Enterprises, and it includes much more than cameras.
The Lakeland Police Department will also receive 250 tasers, 165 in-car camera systems, 10 virtual reality training headsets and three interview room camera systems.
Our reporting in 2020 revealed the use of body cameras in Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies was rare and not a single agency in Polk County had cameras.
Now, the majority of the area's largest law enforcement agencies use cameras including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco sheriff's offices and St. Petersburg, Tampa and Bradenton police departments.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has long been against either body cams or dash cams. His position on either still stands — citing cost and an invasion of privacy.
In 2020, Judd said, “Body cameras don’t point at us, they point at you. The government does not have a right to put body cameras on and photograph the sanctuary where you should be safest. The government does not have a right to do that."
A spokesperson with the sheriff's office said they still have no plans to purchase cameras as the department has continued concerns over citizen privacy and costs.
Winter Haven Police issued body cameras to all patrol officers in May 2022. The Bartow Police Department still doesn't have cameras but a spokesperson says they hope to get them by next year.