Christian group to advocate for body-mounted cameras on St. Pete Police officers

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The National Christian League of Councils is asking the St. Petersburg Police Department to start wearing cameras on their uniforms to capture footage of on-duty interactions. Sevell Brown, NCLC director, will present the idea at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting that left an African-American teenager dead and a city in unrest over what some saw as excessive force by officers, Brown plans to highlight the benefits of wearable cameras.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Brown plans to give at the meeting his cites documentation from the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, that shows wearable cameras de-escalate police interactions because people are better behaved when they know they are on camera. PERF also notes that police chiefs from around the country who have implemented wearable cameras have documented a reduction in complaints and confrontational incidents.

The cameras are seen by most as a protection to the community as officer involved shootings and excessive force accusations mount nationwide. True that may be – PERF notes that the cameras give communities a sense that police are accountable for their actions – it also gives reprieve to officers who could be exonerated of excessive force allegations by reviewing footage from the cameras.

According to the Wall Street Journal, during the first year of use in Rialto, California police-mounted cameras led to a 60 percent reduction in excessive force cases and a nearly 90 percent reduction in citizen complaints.

“We support the NCLC’s initiative to reach out, not only to SPPD Chief Holloway but the Police Chiefs, Mayors and City Councils of all 18 municipalities in Pinellas County to work with the NCLC, ACLU Florida and the respective community leaders to help facilitate this initiative being implemented as a mechanism to protect both our officers and the community,” writes Sevell in his presentation.

One barrier to implementation is cost. Wearable cameras run anywhere from $300 to $400 per unit. With about 550 sworn officers on its force, it would cost the agency as much as $220,000 to fully employ the cameras.

Despite the cost, Sevell says there are about 1,000 police agencies already using the body-mounted cameras.

Critics of the program argue it’s not only costly, it’s a hinderance to police officer’s Frist Amendment rights and to civilians who may be unknowingly video taped by the cameras. They also argue the cameras aren’t necessary because police cruisers are already equipped with cameras.

Expect Sevell to debunk that last bit during his presentation to city council this Thursday. Included in his presentation is a list of things police dash cameras don’t catch like chasing subjects by foot, what happens behind a police car, when officers enter homes and many others.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.