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Pinellas County roundup: Sheriff body cams, Covid-19 and administrator’s job review

Margie Manning

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Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri Daniel Ducassi/POLITICO

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office expects to begin a field trial for body cameras Oct. 26.

Full implementation will probably start in early 2021, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.

Gualtieri, who faces re-election in November, previously had held off on body cameras. He told commissioners Tuesday that the technology has changed drastically since he first started looking at body cameras in 2012.

“One of the significant contributing factors was where the technology was. As we went through an analysis in the last few months from a number of different vendors and did our diligence on the topic, it has exponentially changed for the better and it is something I absolutely endorse and embrace and we need to move forward with for a whole lot of reasons,” Gualtieri said. One of those reasons, he said, was public demand.

The sheriff’s office plans to use the vendor that’s also used by law enforcement agencies in the cities of Clearwater, Pinellas Park and Tampa, as well as Hillsborough County. The St. Petersburg Police Department is doing its own evaluation of potential body camera vendors.

The $3 million a year program is based on a subscription model with a five-year contract. Pinellas commissioners likely will be asked to approve funding in late November or early December, Gualtieri said.

The body cameras were among a wide range of issues discussed at the Tuesday board meeting. Commissioners also extended the state of local emergency initially enacted at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, approved a design contract for the Tampa Bay Innovation Center incubator, and released their performance review of County Administrator Barry Burton.

Mask mandate

The state of local emergency was extended through Oct. 16, allowing the county to ask for federal reimbursements for costs related to the pandemic. It also keeps in effect a county ordinance requiring face masks in public places.

Barry Burton

“We know it’s controversial but it works,” Burton said.

The ordinance has been credited with helping stabilize the number of new Covid-19 cases in the county. As of Tuesday, there were a cumulative total of 22,603 cases and 768 deaths reported in Pinellas County since March. That includes 55 new cases reported Tuesday and two additional deaths. The seven-day rolling averages for new cases is 70, said Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health-Pinellas County.

Burton and Choe met Monday with their counterparts from Hillsborough and Pasco Counties. He said regional collaboration is important for establishing benchmarks that could support policy change, noting that many residents travel between neighboring counties. He also said there are issues specific to Pinellas County that commissioners will want to consider when contemplating any recommendations.

Commissioners also approved a $1.07 million contract with Beck Architecture LLC for architectural services for the Tampa Bay Innovation Center business incubator, a 45,000-square-foot incubator, funded in part through a $7.5 million federal grant, that will be built at 11th Avenue South and 4th Street South in St. Petersburg.

The federal grant will pay for 62 percent of the project, Burton said.

“We were trying to raise more money privately and I still think that is possible. However the pandemic has put a hold on that aspect of this project,” he said.

Burton, who serves as the chief administrative officer for Pinellas County government, also got a job performance review from commissioners. His composite average from the seven commissioner was 4.3  on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating exceptional performance and 4 indicating performance above expectations.

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