OUR POSITION: Pending final approval, the North Port Police Department will equip officers with body cameras.
A nod to the North Port City Commission and the city Police Department for moving ahead with smart technology adopted by no other area agency: body cameras.
The City Commission recently agreed to equip nearly all officers with body cameras supplied by Axon Enterprises, better known for its primary product, Taser. The commission vote was unanimous. Final approval is expected to come at a budget meeting next week.
The cost of a five-year Axon contract is nearly $1 million. The company will supply 84 body cameras — two for each officer. Officers will remove cameras after each shift for downloading. Another will be strapped on for the ride home. Cameras will be worn by patrol, K9 and traffic officers, the special enforcement team and school resource officers. Trainees and detectives won’t get them.
North Port has been moving in this direction since last November, when a pilot project was launched using 10 Axon cameras.
Since then, Deputy Police Chief Chris Morales told commissioners recently, 1,555 videos were taken and 348 hours of video recorded. Traffic stops comprised 27 percent of the videos; 49 files were crashes. Files are uploaded to a website and stored for three months or longer.For instance, according to legal guidelines, felony incidents are stored three years, capital crimes forever.
Of roughly 18,000 police agencies in the United States, some 6,500 use Axon body cameras to some degree. Around here, North Port will stand out as the only agency fully equipped, which is surprising.
As a recent Sun story noted, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and Punta Gorda Police Department have considered tests didn’t take the leap. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office isn’t using them.
Cost is a big factor in that decision. Beyond that are citizen privacy concerns.
State law forbids the public release of video from someone’s home or “a place where a person recorded or depicted in the recording has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Video can be blacked out, though, as are investigative reports.
It is surprising so few departments have moved toward body cameras in the five years since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and subsequent protests.
New York City, which had high-profile issues of its own, has equipped all 20,000 officers with body cameras. It’s the largest police force in the country using body cameras.
In Florida, studies have indicated the presence of cameras helps dampen aggressive police behavior and reduce citizen complaints.
In a two-year study of the Tampa Police Department by the University of South Florida, use-of-force incidents decreased by 8.4 percent among officers with cameras, while rising 3.4 percent among those without. A USF study in Orlando found a 65-percent reduction in citizen complaints against officers wearing cameras. In addition, so-called “response-to-resistance” incidents dropped by 50 percent.
Both show positive impacts on public safety and behavior. The existence of video can just as soon show officers acted properly as improperly. Often as not, video can be used to guard police from false claims.
Time was, law enforcement looked askance at video technology of cruiser-cams. Now, they are routine. We expect the same someday for body-worn cameras. Meanwhile, kudos to North Port for its willingness to move forward with modernization.