BY THE NATIONAL CHRISTIAN LEAGUE OF COUNCILS
PETERSBURG — The National Christian League of Councils (NCLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appeared before the city council Thursday, Oct. 18 to advocate the implementation of a new legislating city policy that would require all St. Pete police officers that carry a badge and a gun to wear traditional body cameras.
Both groups were joined by civic organizations, labor representatives, clergy and others extending their collective voices in lobbying for body cams to provide transparency and accountability of officers when they engage the public.
The NCLC is vehemently opposed to Chief of Police Anthony Holloway and Mayor Rick Kriseman’s preference and insistence on ignoring the African-American community’s request for body cams to deploy gun cameras instead.
“We’re outraged that Chief Holloway’s is presently promoting to the media and press that because the manufacturer has taken the camera from under the barrel of the police gun and re-positioned it on the officers’ chest, he feels he can now call the gun cameras a body camera” stated NCLC National Director Sevell Brown.
He said it is a mockery and a “semantical” play of words. The camera would still be “inextricably” tied to the officer’s gun and would still be triggered when the weapon clears the police officer’s holster.
“More importantly, Chief Holloway’s type gun camera completely eliminates all recordings of the officer’s engagement with the citizen when arriving at the scene of a call or engaging the citizenry without a call, thusly, deleting any sense of accountability that can be obtained from the gun video camera,” said Sevell Brown.
In 2014, the NCLC and a cross-section of the community appeared before the city council requesting body cameras. Chief Holloway asked that council give him two months to test the cameras; four years later, and no test results.
Ray Arsenault, president of ACLU Pinellas County Chapter, conveyed to the city council that there are almost 100,000 ACLU members in the state and more than 4,000 in Pinellas County, alone.
“Police departments all across the state have adopted the body cameras in short order and have had great success. The numbers of incidents have plummeted. The evidence is overwhelming that it is a positive thing for any community, any police department,” said Arsenault. “I think Chief Holloway is somewhat a problem on this, and I think this attempt to substitute gun cameras for body cams is very unfortunate.”
He said gun cameras will not only protect the community but will also protect the officers from false charges.
Arsenault then read into the record a prepared statement from Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU Florida. Simon said body cameras are not a cure-all, “but with the right policies in place that balance privacy for both citizens and the police, the body cams program has the potential to provide a meaningful safeguard against abusive practices and an accountability program that improves trust between the police and the community.”
NCLC’s Darryl Brown, Sr. noted that in many cases of brutality, a gun is not pulled. He gave an example of the 51-year-old great grandmother who was beaten on the interstate by a 6’4” 260-pound highway patrolman, and no gun was drawn. He also brought up Eric Gardner who was put in a choke hold and killed by officers with a gun being drawn.
“Another thing, where are the test results from Chief Holloway’s testing? Do you councilmembers have them? Who has them? Has anybody seen them? Why have they not been shared with the black community or the community at large,” Darryl Brown, Sr. asked.
Maria Jose Chapter, of SEIU Florida Public Service Union, spoke specifically about her concerns of cameras videoing sanitation drivers in their trucks. She said management uses the cameras to spy on workers.
She feels the city should take the money they use to spy on sanitation workers and buy body cameras “for city workers who are armed.”
Rev. Alvin Miller, who was one of 21 ministers and 544 residents who signed the NCLC petition supporting body cameras that was submitted to the council, stated that body cameras show honesty.
Sevell Brown asked councilmembers if they would be willing to invite experts in from the ACLU Florida to conduct a symposium or workshop in order for them to make an intelligent decision, and no one answered or asked him, or the other speakers, one question.