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St. Petersburg police will be wearing body cameras sooner than expected

Margie Manning

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An Axon body-worn camera (Photo credit: Axon)

The St. Petersburg City Council has approved a five-year, $6.75 million contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. to buy body-worn cameras for every uniformed police officer and every marked police cruiser in the fleet.

“This is the next step in modern policing,” Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam told City Council members Thursday.

The city issued a request for proposals on Aug. 7 that closed Sept. 3. Seven vendors responded. Axon, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, was selected on Oct. 2. The Oct. 15 presentation to the City Council was a month ahead of schedule, Gilliam said.

He cited Axon’s large staff, lengthy business experience and lack of lawsuits as key reasons for choosing the company.

“Of the final three prospective vendors, Axon was the only vendor that was firmly committed to a timeline of before 2021 to outfit all uniformed officers with body cameras,” Gilliam said.

The city will get 500 body-worn cameras and 450 mobile video systems for patrol cars, as well as the software and ownership of the video footage, he said.

The cameras will always be passively recording, or buffering. Once a camera transitions to active recording, the camera will roll back 30 seconds and begin storage of the events from that point on. An officer can manually initiate active recording when an arrest is expected, if the officer is about to conduct a field interview, during a traffic stop, arriving at calls for service, or any interaction with a known or potential suspect.

The camera will automatically activate when an officer’s firearm is removed from its holster, or when a taser is removed from a holster and in the ready to fire mode. Cameras in the patrol cars will automatically activate when the overhead lights are turned on.

Every officer will be required to turn the camera on when they begin duty and leave it on until their shift ends, Gilliam said.

“Those situations we see nationwide, under the policy we are about to complete, all those situations would be captured with our body-worn camera,” Gilliam said. “The worst thing is to have an event happen and it’s not captured on the body-worn camera. That’s why our policy is going to be comprehensive and it will capture those encounters with individuals, while we’re also balancing privacy.”

The police department will be able to redact footage for some interviews, such as with victims of sexual assault or juveniles.

St. Petersburg police officers are in favor of the body-worn cameras, Gilliam said.

“Their opinion of body-worn cameras has shifted dramatically within the last year or year and a half. It is the sentiment of officers that they desire body-worn cameras for purposes of evidentiary value, complaints, transparency, accountability and modernization,” Gilliam said. “Our citizens have also expressed a clear desire for our officers to wear body-worn cameras and to wear them as soon as practical, which is why we’re here today, one month ahead of schedule.”

The contract was approved unanimously.

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