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Courts / Law

Lakeland joins law enforcement across Tampa Bay in adopting body cameras

A uniformed police officer holds up a plastic clip that secures a smartphone style device used as a body cam.
Police departments and sheriff's offices across the Tampa Bay area have adopted the use of the devices in the past few years.

Earlier this week, Lakeland City Commission voted unanimously to approve a contract that will provide the city's police department with 250 body cameras.

Law enforcement across the country are facing public pressure for more transparency on their use of force after last summer's murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

One of the main pushes is for body cams--which can provide unbiased recordings of interactions.

Police departments and sheriff's offices across the Tampa Bay area have adopted the use of the devices in the past few years.

And the Lakeland Police Department will soon join their ranks.

Earlier this week, Lakeland City Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract that will provide the city's police department with 250 body cameras in late 2022. The $9.3 million package also includes new tasers and in-car video systems.

Assistant Chief Hans Lehman, who led the project, said some residents have long requested the devices, years before last summer's public reckoning.

"Did George Floyd and those protests maybe spark it a little bit more, maybe I don't know that I can answer that,” he said. “But there have been folks that have requested body cams well before those two incidents."

The cameras will be just one more tool for the public and the police department in investigating complaints, Lehman said. Lakeland P.D. will also use in-car video, cell phone videos, storefront surveillance videos, and other kinds of evidence.

"Body cams are great,” he said. “It's another tool in the toolbox for the department and this community and the citizens as far as transparency and all."

The intent of the cameras is not only for record-keeping, but to help build trust.

Black people and other people of color have often found themselves the subjects of police force.

For example, a report by Accountable Now found that from 2017 to 2019 in St. Petersburg, about 57 percent of the subjects of use of force were Black, despite Black people making up just 22 percent of the area’s population.

Police departments already using body cameras include Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Clearwater, and Bradenton. And while Sheriff's Offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Pasco Counties also wear them, deputies in Sarasota and Polk Counties do not.

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