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Hillsborough County To Fit Deputies With Body Cameras

Hillsborough County Sheriff cruiser parked in front of brick wall that has a postcard of Tampa.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
HCSO is accepting proposals for body worn cameras and other data management systems now until July 31.

By Erin O'Brien

Reversing a previous position, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is now accepting proposals for body cameras for their deputies. 

An HCSO press release says bids are being accepted through July 31. Then, a testing period will begin soon after the proposals are evaluated. 

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, once the testing is completed and a provider is chosen, Hillsborough County will become the 24th Sheriff's Office in the state to equip their officers with body cameras.

Sheriff Chad Chronister, who has been critical of the use of body cameras in the past, said in a press release on Wednesday, "I am confident in the professionalism and integrity of our deputies, but I recognize the need for transparency to our citizens, particularly as it relates to the use of deadly force or the drawing of a firearm."

Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and author of Police Body-Worn Cameras, said body cameras must be used in a way that shows departments are operating openly.

"If the agency adopts policies that make it difficult for the public to get hold of the video, if they allow their officers to not record most interactions, or if they instruct their officers to record most interactions but never actually ensure that they do so, then body cameras aren't going to have the benefits that were originally promised," said Stoughton. 

Stoughton also warns people that even though body cameras may be helpful, they aren't a solution to all concerns.

“Any tool that allows us to get better information than what we would otherwise get is a positive addition," Stoughton said. "But we need to be a little cautious and not expect too much from what is ultimately a limited tool.”

Stoughton has educated people across the country about the pros and cons of police body cameras. He says that they should be aware of an overreliance on video in the courtroom.

“People tend to think that video is the most accurate, comprehensive and reliable form of evidence. That's not necessarily the case," said Stoughton. "Video evidence is just like any other piece of evidence. It has to be weighed and measured against all of the other sources of evidence about a particular encounter, rather than blindly relied upon."

Police body cameras rose to popularity across the nation after officer-involved shootings elicited protests and demonstrations. 

"Getting more information in certain types of interactions, body cams are going to be a great tool. But some situations, for example, capturing the details of a use of force situation, body cameras aren't going to be as helpful as we might expect," said Stoughton. 

In general, Florida law enforcement agencies have been slow to add the technology to their uniforms.

Charlotte, Citrus, Manatee, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota are among the 43 Florida sheriff's offices where deputies don't wear body cameras. 

Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.
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