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St. Petersburg Police To Wear Body Cameras By The End Of The Year

The St. Pete chief of police holds up the body camera used during a pilot program earlier this year. It looks like a modified phone case with a camera.
Daylina Miller/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA
St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway in February demonstrated the body cameras being used for a pilot program that outfitted him and nine other officers with cameras.

The St. Petersburg City Council approved a $6.7 million dollar contract to equip hundreds of officers and patrol cars with cameras by the end of 2020.

By the end of the year, St. Petersburg Police Department's 386 uniformed officers will be sporting body cameras.

The decision comes about six years after Police Chief Tony Holloway first expressed support for the devices.

And as tensions rise between law enforcement officers and activists after months of protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others there have been more calls for transparency from police agencies.

Earlier this year, 10 uniformed police officers, including Holloway, tested body cameras on the streets.

On Thursday, the St. Petersburg city council approved a contract with Axon Enterprise for about $6.7 million over five years to cover the cameras, and associated costs like training and cloud storage.

The department is purchasing 500 body cameras, and 450 in-vehicle cameras. This will cover all uniformed officers, including extras for law enforcement officers who don the uniform for special events.

Axon won the bid against six other companies. Of the final three prospective vendors, Axon was the only vendor committed to outfit all uniformed officers by the end of 2020.

The company is considered an industry leader in body cameras worn by law enforcement agencies. It also supplies the cameras to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department and the Clearwater Police Department.

Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam said the cameras will always be recording.

"When officers check on duty, and before they head out to their calls, they are turning on their body cameras. And those body cameras stay on the entire time the officer is out in the field. They don't turn off until the officer leaves the field and they are checked out of service.”

The body camera will always passively record without saving the data. Once activated, the recording will be saved to cloud storage, including the 30 seconds prior to activation.

The active recording and data storage can be manually triggered by an officer during situations like a traffic stop, or when an arrest is anticipated.

It will also be automatically triggered to record when offers turn their tasers on or pull their guns from their holsters. It also activates all body cameras within 30 feet of a marked police cruiser outfitted with the in-car camera system – once the lights are turned on.

Gilliam said he believes in the department’s ability to “self-police,” and that the department is highly regarded as professional, and emphasized that transparency was the main goal.

"This is just a way that modern policing, the direction of modern policing, is headed. And as an agency that prides itself in being modernized, and an agency that does everything it can to maintain the trust of its citizens."

Gilliam said the department has had fewer than 20 complaints and internal affairs investigations from citizens in 2020, and more than 100 citizen commendations.

Body camera footage will be subject to public records requests, but privy to the same exemptions as other types of records, including open cases and those involving juveniles or sex offenses.