Body cams seen as marketing tool, invasion of privacy in the Tampa Bay area

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies remain divided on how body and dash-camera video should be used.

Some would say it’s time to break out the popcorn when the videos show up on social media feeds. People are seeing crazy footage of shootouts, car chases and amazing rescues that are going viral online.

The reason the videos are being made public more than ever depends on who you ask.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco wants to recruit the best people. He believes the inside look provided by video cameras could help attract future deputies.

“So it absolutely is part of the marketing strategy. It’s all about recruiting,” Nocco says.

He believes the videos are also an educational tool and a way to show more than just a short clip that might be captured on a cell phone.

“What we put out there is the reality. I can tell you, if they don’t have the camera on them and they’re out in the street, somebody else has a video camera on them,” Nocco says.

400 Pasco County deputies are equipped with body cams, officials say. Nocco’s office shares more video from those devices than any other in the Tampa Bay area.

PCSO pays $395,748 a year for licensing, storage and docking to maintain body cameras, according to office’s 2018 invoice.

It’s a different story in Polk County where Sheriff Grady Judd wants nothing to do with recording devices of any kind.

“I’m a huge believer in privacy,” Judd says.

He says new drones used by some of his deputies only send live feeds to help track suspects. Judd says the devices won’t be used to record any footage.

“For me and my community, I’m not going to have you recorded for someone to put out on the internet, for someone to leak or for the government to have a database on the inside of your house. It’s not happening,” Judd says.

Body-cam video showing the inside of a home is not open to public record but Judd stands firm in his belief that the footage shouldn’t be saved at all.

Several agencies have either body or dash cameras that are available to only some of the officers on the force. It depends on leadership of the particular city or county. Others also cite cost as being an issue, saying it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain video footage.

Jordan Letschert says he’s a sworn member of the Police Complaint Oversight Committee for the city of Sarasota. He says that with his experience of being a former Texas police officer, “Every agency and officer should want cameras as they keep all parties honest and usually resolve questionable situations.”

The technology isn’t perfect. A Pinellas County deputy was able to turn off the sound on his dash cam, but kept the camera rolling during an arrest in Pinellas Park last year.

“The dash cam was 100 percent crucial but all the steps that needed to be followed weren’t followed,” said Michele Rayner, defense attorney with Rayner Robinson Shaw law firm.

Rayner plans to use the video to represent her client in court, but believes the footage reveals a bigger issue.

“We lobbied for these body cams but where does it come back to? It comes back to law enforcement’s relationship with the community,” Rayner said.

Those relationships aren’t always great, but the outcomes being shared online are leaving an impression for the world to see.

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