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Here's why St. Pete Police have waited so long to employ body cameras

In a newly announced pilot program, a handful of selected officers will wear the cameras for 45 days.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It's taken close to five years, but St. Petersburg Police are finally putting body cameras on officers. 

At least a handful of them, anyway.

In a newly announced pilot program, a handful of selected officers – including Chief Anthony Holloway – will wear the cameras for 45 days before making a recommendation to the city on whether or not to move forward with a department-wide body camera program.

“Let me stress to you on this, this is just a test, we have actually got to get the cost to the city, we don’t know what that cost is,” Holloway told members of the media on Wednesday. “We still have to look at the storage, how we’re going to make sure we have available for public records requests, so there’s a lot of things that we have to make sure that we put in place.”

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“I was always for body cameras, the only thing that changed my mind is we finally got what we’re looking for,” said Holloway.

What he was looking for was a system that doesn't rely on an officer to turn on the camera, which opens itself to human error, as well as a system that would be cost-effective when it comes to storing all the video once it's recorded.

“The biggest thing was storage, we did not – we, meaning the department – we did not want something that was on for eight hours a day,” added Holloway. “We then looked at: what is the crucial moment? And when we talked to everybody that crucial moment was when that officer pulled his or her weapon, you want to know what happened. You want to know why the officer pulled that weapon, so that’s what we want to capture. So, when they pull their gun, or they pull their taser the question is: why did they do it? So, we’ll capture that moment.”

The cameras in the pilot program will not be recording the entirety of an officer's shift from the time they clock in until the time they clock out. Instead, they have what's known as a pre-roll feature which starts recording up to two minutes before being activated. Officers activate the camera anytime they unholster their weapon or taser, or with the push of a button on a wristband worn by the officer.

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The biggest cost isn't associated with the cameras themselves, which the department is looking into grant funding to cover. The bigger expense is the yearly cost of storing the data and paying someone to handle all the public records requests that come in for the video.

Another concern is privacy, not for officers, but for citizens.

“We pride ourselves on community policing,” Holloway added. “So we want to make sure that when we’re out there talking to citizens, that we can have that conversation without someone worrying about someone saying, ‘Hey, I saw that officer talking to you, so I’m going to go to the station and I’m going to ask for a copy of that video’. By law, I have to give it to you, so then we’re going to see the point where people are going to say, ‘You know what, I used to give you information but I’m worried about someone telling you who I am.'”

Holloway said he hopes to have the pilot program up and running by some time in April and hopes to make a recommendation to the city by the end of the year.

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