Body cameras stalled by SPPD

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

In a recent Tampa Bay Times article regarding the use of body cameras by local law enforcement agencies, I was somewhat taken aback by Chief Anthony Holloway’s explanation as to why the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) is not currently utilizing body cameras or actively working to implement a pilot program.

His concerns appeared to have centered on issues involving operational logistics, cost, privacy and retention concerns. While Chief Holloway’s concerns are justified, I am certain that he is very much aware that the Department of Justice, the International Association of Police Chiefs, as well as recent legislative changes has addressed some of the very concerns that he raised.

Shortly after the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, President Obama was heard on local radio talk shows promoting the resources available to local law enforcement agencies interested in utilizing body cameras as one of their strategies for working to rebuild relationships with African-American communities. However, he did preface his comments with the following remarks and I paraphrase: even with all the federal grant money and technical assistance available, those resources must be accompanied by those in charge of local law enforcement agencies  having  the political will to want to build or rebuild relationships with the African- American communities within their perspective jurisdictions.

While I wholeheartedly support the chief’s strategy of not jumping on the latest technological tool to benefit the public’s safety, I am somewhat perplexed that in light of Ferguson, Sanford, Tulsa, New York,  Baltimore and South Carolina,  just to name a few, that he would not have been  positioned at this point to either be prepared to implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at rebuilding trust between the SPPD and the African-American community to include a strategy to use body cameras, or a strategic response justifying why body cameras in particular are not a viable tool.

As a taxpayer, I penned several emails to Mayor Kriseman prior to his selection of police chief urging that his choice be based on that individual’s skill and core competencies to lead a major law enforcement agency within the 21st century as opposed to political pressures.

One of those core competencies I had hoped the mayor would have considered was the individuals’ track record of assessing any threat to public safety, rather real or perceived, and that individual having the skill to craft strategic responses to those threats. Chief Holloway’s explanations came off more as excuses as opposed to a strategic response to a potential threat to the community’s public safety.

I am in no way suggesting the use of body cameras in and of themselves is the cure all to repair relationships that have been torn down over a period of time between SPPD and the African American-community.  However, I do contend, as Chief Holloway works to rebuild trust with the African-American community, body cameras would appear to serve as one of many arsenals in his tool belt worth exploring. If through that exploration the chief and his staff deem them not appropriate, that he be prepared to offer the community a more substantive explanation against the use of body camera.

I am certain that Chief Holloway, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, nor Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to find themselves on the back end of a white officer involved shooting of a black man where a citizen has recorded an incident that contradicts the sworn law enforcement officer’s version of the occurrence.

It would appear to me that long before the news media would begin to craft their versions of the sequence of events, they would want to have access to technology that could aide them in developing a preliminary assessment of the incident as opposed to seeing disputable facts roll out via social media.

It also appears to me, that the majority of great officers who suit up every day and put their lives on the line would welcome any technology that could capture decisions they have to make in split seconds rather than questionable shootings or any other actions that may cause an officer’s actions to be called into questioned.

~ Maria L. Scruggs

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