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Dash cams, body cams rejected in St. Pete despite national trends

St. Pete City Council considering other tools
Posted at 6:27 PM, May 22, 2017

When Dominique Battle, 16, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Laniya Miller, 15, drove into a Pinellas County pond near the Gandy Boulevard in March of 2016, it was deputy dashboard camera video that helped the public, and investigators, decide if authorities should be held responsible for the death of the three teen girls.

Recently, dash cams have become useful tools on a daily basis for Tampa Bay Area law enforcement agencies, including Tampa Police, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

But St. Pete Police have not fully embraced the trend, and a recent vote by the St. Pete City Council will now push the city even further away from the implementation of dashboard cameras.

The City Council voted 5-2 on Thursday against spending $87,000 to install 15 dashboard cameras in newly purchased police vehicles.

Council member Karl Nurse tells ABC Action News he pushed his fellow council members to vote against the measure, saying the cameras cost too much money, in his opinion, and aren't necessary, adding they rarely help solve crimes.

Nurse says he also doesn't think officers need "body cameras" because he doesn't think officers need to be so closely monitored.

A spokesperson for the St. Petersburg Police Department tells ABC Action News that the Chief welcomes any new tools the city wants to supply his team.

Chief Tony Holloway also tells ABC Action News that he believes the community is expecting the local police department to be equipped with cameras in their cruisers, so he thinks the cameras should be a priority. He adds that the cameras also have crime-fighting value, since they help in securing convictions in cases because they provide video evidence of traffic crimes and arrests.

Chief Holloway may have some unique perspective about the value of cameras, as he serves on a National Body Camera Task Force, created by the American Bar Association, to review how law enforcement agencies across the country use the cameras and to identify best practices.

Nurse told his fellow city council members he would prefer to use money on tools that would help the police department solve crimes, like a gunfire-location tool called ShotSpotter, which uses audio, and sometimes visual, technology to identify the location of shootings, and bullet casings.

Some council members said they didn't think spending had to be an either-or situation, and the police department should have all the tools it needs.

Nurse says covering the Midtown area with ShotSpotter technology would cost about $347,000; it would cost nearly $2 million to provide all St. Pete Police cruisers with dashboard cameras. Only about 30 police vehicles have them right now.

Still, a case like the teen girls who drove a stolen car into a pond during a police pursuit shows that dash cams and body cameras can deliver the kind of clarity that only a visual record can provide.

The video will be a key piece of debate as the families of those girls sue the Sheriff's Office, claiming deputies are responsible for the wrongful death of the teens.