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Polk County residents continue to press police about getting body cameras

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 18:31:07-04

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — National events like the murder of George Floyd by former officer Derek Chauvin are driving residents of Polk County to demand more transparency from law enforcement.

“I felt like it was a necessity because of all the things that were happening around the country. We definitely needed our officers to have body cameras,” said Bishop Willie Mincey, President of the NAACP Winter Haven chapter.

Mincey said body cameras are more important than ever. Just this weekend, a Winter Haven officer shot a man at least seven times, killing him. Mincey has questions about what happened, that he says body camera footage could answer.

RECOMMENDED: List: Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies using body cameras

“Nobody knows what happened except the officers. A dead man can't speak nobody else was there to be a witness,” Mincey said.

He said the NAACP meets regularly with the police chief on this issue. ABC Action News asked Chief David Brannan why Winter Haven police don’t use body cameras. He said unreliable technology and costs are some of his concerns.

“The biggest cost is the storage and most likely you would have to add personnel to deal with making sure the system stays up and running and public records requests,” Brannan said.

He said it would cost his department between $500,000 to $700,000 for a five-year period.

The Winter Haven Police Department is currently working on presenting a staff study about the pros and cons of using body cameras that will be presented to the city commission.

“There are still citizens that don’t want it because of privacy issues and there are state laws that regulate that too so there’s a lot of work that goes into it,” said Brannan.

We asked other cities in Polk County if they are considering introducing body cameras.

In an emailed statement to ABC Action News, Lakeland police said: “We are currently in the process of researching the full financial and operational impact of implementing body cameras within our agency.”

The department estimates it will cost the city $5 million over the next five years to replace all of its existing vehicle dashboard cameras and purchase body cameras for 200 officers.

In February, Lake Wales City Commissioners voted unanimously for its police department to be outfitted with body cameras.

This makes them the first and only law enforcement agency in Polk County to have them.

“To me, it’s going to protect our good officers that’s doing their job, doing their due diligence and it will also like I said protect our citizens for the police officers that are not doing the right thing,” said Terrye Howell, Lake Wales City Commissioner.

The commission approved a five-year contract that includes eight body cameras, with a price tag of $75,000.

The Lake Wales Police Department employs 44 officers.

They tell me they’re working on training, developing policy and infrastructure and don't have an exact date as to when officers will begin using the cameras.

Commissioner Howell hopes the other Polk County law enforcement agencies will follow suit.

“Just saying that we want trust is not enough. Just saying that we want everyone to behave is not enough. We’re supposed to do something to make something happen,” Howell said.