The Orlando Police Department will equip patrol officers with body cameras after a study determined that the devices improve safety, reduce complaints and increase transparency, Chief John Mina said Monday.
During the next four years, OPD will add 450 cameras to patrol officers’ uniforms, Mina said during a presentation to the Orlando City Council on Monday.
According to Mina’s presentation, it will cost about $1.69 million to get the program up and running, including the purchase of 100 cameras a year during that span and the storage of their footage. After that, he estimated the annual data-storage costs for the body cams would be about $460,000.
The chief said cameras are “not a panacea” for tensions between police and the public but are a good start.
“We believe it’s going to increase officer professionalism,” Mina said, adding: “We’ve already seen great results.”
University of South Florida researchers began the study in March 2014 with the goal to explore “the perceptions of Orlando police officers toward body worn cameras and the effect of body worn cameras on officer [and citizen] behavior.”
Mina’s presentation was a preliminary report meant to bring commissioners up to speed on the 12-month study, which concluded recently. OPD is expected to work the annual costs for the cameras into its budget in coming years.
Wesley Jennings, one of two USF criminology professors who led the study, said in an email Thursday that researchers had received the final data in the “last couple of weeks” and are still completing their final report.
Researchers studied 100 police officers — 50 wearing cameras while on duty and 50 not equipped with them.
Mina said that officers who wore the cameras for a year liked them and asked to keep them. During his presentation, the chief highlighted testimonials from several officers who attested to the benefits of body cams.
“I see extreme value in body worn cameras for collecting evidence, writing reports and most importantly for resolving complaints,” one officer responded.
Though the agency’s body-cam policies haven’t been formalized, Mina provided commissioners with several details of the agency’s program:
•Officers will be able to choose where to wear their cameras: over the ear, on a shoulder, a lapel or head-mounted.
•They will be able to upload and access video from the body-cam system remotely; however, officers will not be able to edit their video.
•The cameras will be able to capture and store the 30 seconds before an officer activates his or her camera. Mina also said officers will be trained to activate their cameras any time they are “taking enforcement action.”
Mina also laid out several “challenges” for adopting body cameras, including determining how long to keep footage, weighing privacy concerns and the possibility of a “huge amount of public-records requests” for the video.
However, the Florida Legislature last week passed a bill exempting from public-records laws any body-cam footage recorded within a private residence, a medical facility or “in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private.”
That bill, which drew criticism from First Amendment watchdogs, is still awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.
According to USF, the study was meant to compare the experiences of officers with similar responsibilities, including their patrol areas, assignments and the time of day of their shifts. All participants were volunteers.
While the study was underway, tension between police and the public escalated nationally, erupting into protests and violence, including in Ferguson, Mo., and more recently after the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Six Baltimore officers were charged in Gray’s death last week after days of protests and, in some instances, rioting.
OPD has been the subject of a number of excessive-force complaints in recent years, and Monday’s report came as four of Mina’s current or former officers are facing criminal charges for their use of force while on duty.
On Friday, the department announced the firing of an officer who shot 23 rounds from an assault rifle at a fleeing vehicle inside a downtown parking garage. That officer, David Johnston, is also facing charges.
Video played a role in that investigation. The incident was captured by the garage’s surveillance cameras.
Even before the study ended, Dyer and Mina both expressed support for equipping more officers with body cameras.
And last week, in his annual “State of the City” speech, Dyer called for “deploying body cams to provide critical evidence in solving crimes, increase transparency and accountability and strengthen trust with the community.”
Several local agencies, including the Daytona Beach Police Department, have embraced body cams, both as a means of rooting out bad officers and also to disprove frivolous complaints and lawsuits, agency leaders said.
In January, Orange County approved about $476,000 in funding for the Sheriff’s Office to begin a body-camera program.
Original article here.