Majority of top brass supports police cameras

Pensacola police officers last year began wearing body cameras as part of their regular duty gear.

The use of body cameras came after nearly a year of planning, testing and training by the Pensacola Police Department.

Now comes a study by the University of West Florida and Florida Atlantic University that shows growing support among law enforcement leaders for police to wear body cameras.

The study, “Police-Worn Body Cameras: Perceptions of Law Enforcement Leadership,” revealed that half of law enforcement surveyed support the use of body cameras.

“Law enforcement leadership sees body-worn cameras as a way for officers to tell their side of the story,” said Matthew Crow, chairman of the UWF Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The study came as a result of several high-profile officer-involved shootings, including the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Public trust in law enforcement dropped considerably to its lowest level since 1993, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The use of body-worn cameras by police came about as a response to the shootings and the rising distrust of law enforcement.

“Many in leadership see the use as a positive thing as it will be available if a situation arises,” Crow said.

Equipping police with body cameras may be an effective way to improve the behavior of officers and the public with which they interact, says a study by researchers at the University of Central Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that researchers last year released their findings on a yearlong body-worn camera pilot program at the Orlando Police Department. They randomly picked 46 officers to wear the devices and compared them against 43 officers who did not wear cameras.

In the 12-month period, use-of-force incidents dropped 53 percent among officers with cameras. Civilian complaints against officers also saw a 65 percent decrease.

In 2014, the Pensacola Police Department bought 55 body cameras and supporting software with $95,000 from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which included money from seizures and forfeitures.

The Pensacola Police Department has begun the use of Vie Vu body worn cameras during public interactions. Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today

The Pensacola Police Department has begun the use of Vie Vu body worn cameras during public interactions. Michael Spooneybarger/ Pensacola Today

The department had used in-car cameras for nearly two decades, but there was no way to capture on video incidents away from police vehicles.

The body cameras now are used anytime an officer is conducting police business.

Critics expressed concerns that certain guidelines would make it too easy for officers to tamper with cameras, use the video only for their only benefit or turn the devices into a tool for broader surveillance.

Pensacola’s departmental policy will allow for officer discretion in order to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses.

“Pensacola is fortunate to have what I believe is one of the finest police departments in the country, but we are always looking for ways that we can be better,” Mayor Ashton Hayward last year. “It’s important to me that we be transparent in everything we do as a city government, and I believe these cameras will reinforce public trust in our police department while safeguarding both our citizens and our police officers.”

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