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I-Team: Police body cameras worth the cost?

Posted: 10:32 PM, Feb 22, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-23 12:55:08-05

We've all seen video of officers behaving badly, but body cameras can also protect law enforcement.

The I-Team got video of a July incident in Pasco County.

Investigators say the suspect aimed a rifle at deputies. In the video, we count at least 21 times deputies demand the suspect lower his weapon.

After deputies say he raised his rifle, six shots were fired at the man. He was warned to drop his gun, then two more shots.

The suspect lived. In the video you can clearly see he had a rifle. The body cam video helped justify the shooting in a matter of moments.

"Where without a body worn camera this would've taken days and potentially weeks," said Maj. Mel Eakley with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Pasco County Sheriff Office is the only law enforcement agency in the Tampa Bay area to outfit all of their patrol deputies with body-worn cameras.

This month will mark a full year of their use.
 
"It's much better that we have gone to these cameras," Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "I believe in our eyes it's made us a better organization. It's protected our deputies, it's protected our citizens and it's made us more open to our citizens. They can see what's going on."
 
The program hasn't been perfect. The I-Team went digging through hundreds of emails. We looked at equipment maintenance requests and "failure to activates," or instances when the cameras didn't record.

Here's what we found:

In the past year they had nearly 194 maintenance requests submitted after mechanical issues.

There were also 182 failure to record incidents.

Out of those, 110 incidents were because deputies "forgot to record." In some of those cases documents reveal use of force was used.

Twenty-eight cases were mechanical issues, 12 were human errors and 32 incidents were unknown.

We also found three cases in which deputies were disciplined for violating body cam policies.

"It's a very small percentage, however we do look at that," Nocco said. "It is important to us, and that's why we've changed policies because of that."

Nocco said the benefits are worth the challenges. He said deputies investigated by internal affairs have been cleared quicker, putting less stress on them and their families.

"Hearing from our sergeants and supervisors, you know, cameras absolutely reduce the amount of complaints, the amount of issues, and the amount of time that we used to have to put into concerns or complaints," he said.
 
Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Polk County sheriffs all tell us they're against using body worn cameras on deputies.

They all claim there are privacy issues and costs are to high.

Hillsborough's sheriff estimates it will take $15 million a year just to store their video, not including the costs of cameras.

Who's using body cameras in the Tampa Bay area?

Attorney Michael Maddux argues the cost of lawsuits can be far more expensive than the cost of body cameras.

 

"Expense is not an excuse because the level of excessive force is going to go down and their credibility is going to go up," Maddux said. "Litigation can cost tens of thousands of dollars. I've been involved in those litigation contests where the sheriff or whatever agency is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend an officer."  
 
St. Petersburg Police Department is experimenting with using body cameras.  Tampa Police Department is wrapping up a study with USF in which they evaluated 60 officers using them for a year. A similar study with Orlando police showed positive results.
 
"The officers that wore the body worn cameras had significantly less use of force and significantly less external complaints logged against them," USF Associate Professor Wesley Jennings said.

Jennings found Orlando officers wearing the cameras had a 53.4 percent reduction in use of force and a 65.4 percent reduction in citizens complaints.

He expects Tampa Police Department's results to be about the same.

"At the end of the study, almost all of them said they liked the cameras, they want to keep their cameras and they believe the rest of the officers in their agency would benefit and want these cameras," he said.

Two USF studies involving two police departments, and one local sheriff's office using them, all found use of force and citizens complaints have gone down when using body cameras.

Sheriff Nocco says even the most reluctant are now believers.

"There's no doubt about it, putting cameras on deputies is a cultural change, and there were some that were adamantly against it," he said. "But in a matter of weeks, in a matter of months in some cases, they came back and say we would never work without this."
 
Nocco is spending nearly $2 million to have body worn cameras for five years.

He said it's worth every penny.