More Tampa Bay police agencies adding body cameras, but are they effective?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The death of George Floyd has sparked renewed calls for police transparency. A researcher tells 8 On Your Side body cameras can not only increase transparency and accountability but also reduce the number of volatile interactions.

The way the cameras are utilized is key.

“I’ve been studying body-worn cameras since 2015,” said Daniel Lawrence, a researcher at the Justice Policy Center at Urban Institute.

Lawrence has conducted studies in Anaheim, California, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It’s reduced the number of subject stops that officers have conducted which are very volatile situations,” said Lawrence.

“Do we know if being filmed changes an officer’s behavior?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.

“Originally, the theory behind body-worn cameras was a civilizing effect that was two-sided,” said Lawrence.

It was believed that officers and community members would behave more appropriately due to the recording, he explained, but the research has been mixed.

“The verdict is still out on whether that civilizing effect is really occurring,” said Lawrence.

According to Lawrence, success depends on the way body cameras are utilized. He believes officers should have less discretion on when to press record.

Plus, he said, the footage should be regularly checked by supervisors and the cameras can be a training tool.

Right now, the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are testing body cameras.

Soon, St. Petersburg police officers will have them too.

But some departments, like the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, tell 8 On Your Side, they don’t have them and they don’t want them.

“It’s a huge tax burden so that the government can record you in your most private times in your most private places,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not for that and I’m not going to have them.”

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has been using body cameras since 2015.

“The cameras not only help the investigations of crimes but provide deputies and citizens alike an added layer of protection during interactions, as these cameras can show the totality of a circumstance,” said Pasco Sheriff spokeswoman Amanda Hunter on Wednesday.

Here’s some of the local law enforcement agencies that currently do not utilize body cameras:

  • Bradenton Police Department
  • Citrus County Sheriff’s Office
  • Clearwater Police Department
  • Hernando County Sheriff’s Office
  • Highlands County Sheriff’s Office
  • Lakeland Police Department
  • Manatee County Sheriff’s Office
  • Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
  • Polk County Sheriff’s Office
  • Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
  • Sarasota Police Department

Researchers say, while the results are mixed, video does often increase police accountability.

“Body worn cameras are holding police officers accountable now,” said Lawrence.

Again, he stressed that supervisors should continuously be checking the footage.

If you have a tip for investigator Mahsa Saeidi about a case, send her an email at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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