Kissimmee approves deal for high-tech body cameras for officers

The Kissimmee Police Department is joining the growing list of Central Florida law enforcement agencies to equip its officers with body cameras.

But the department’s new cameras are unlike others in use across the region and are cheaper, too.

The high-tech gear from Body Worn, a Georgia-based company, comes with a number of advanced features that other departments in Central Florida don’t have. The $524,000 expense over a five-year span for 80 cameras was approved by the city council in February.

The department plans to have officers using the cameras by June.

“I’m very excited. We have been looking at vendors and examining best practices at many departments because we didn’t just want a camera. Anyone could give us that — we wanted something more,” said Kissimmee Police Deputy Chief John Lewis.

The cameras come with a mobile hot spot in each officer’s patrol car so they can easily upload videos into a cloud-based online system and redaction software that allows victims’ faces to easily be blurred out, both of which aim to save the department time and money.

The devices also send an emergency signal when an officer is lying down for more than 30 seconds to notify dispatch an officer is down and needs help.

The cameras can be manually started with a bracelet but will automatically begin recording once an officer’s emergency lights are on and they open a door.

This differs from two of the region’s largest agencies: the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department, both of which are still working to get cameras for all of their officers.

Law enforcement at both of the agencies have to manually start recordings.

“Technology evolves rapidly and new generations of cameras are developed and or enhanced based on feedback and lessons learned from previous deployments,” said Capt. Angelo Nieves of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

But Lewis said in Kissimmee, they decided against the type of system that has to be manually started.

“We don’t want to give the public any reason to think we purposely did not record an interaction,” he said. “We’d rather be able to say, ‘here’s exactly what happened and how.’ ”

Orange County deputy sheriffs have about 670 cameras, with more coming next year. Deputies started receiving the cameras in 2014.

The Orlando Police Department has approved a $1.1 million contract with Motorola to supply the new cameras. The city also will pay about $800,000 a year for storage. The total cost, including storage is about $4,222 per officer a year.

Kissimmee’s deal is about $1,310 per officer a year.

The city researched a number of companies and ultimately selected one. Lewis said the city wanted them to get the best they could find.

City of Orlando spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said they are bound to go through a bidding process, to which three companies responded.

“It’s an important process that allows transparency and a fair opportunity to all vendors,” she said.

Lafser said they compared the vendors before making a choice. Despite the higher price and lower quality of cameras, she said they will “provide the functionality that we need to increase transparency in the department.”

Kissimmee’s camera system includes new uniform shirts so the cellphone-sized devices can stay attached to officers, as opposed to cameras clipped onto shirts or attached to glasses or hats.

Lewis said this will prevent the cameras being knocked off in a scuffle.

The agency plans to have 80 of the department’s 131 officers outfitted with cameras by June 10.

Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez said the city prides itself on accountability and the cameras will only add another layer of transparency.

“Body-worn cameras have historically been able to quickly refute complaints of officer misconduct and have been able to highlight the positive interaction officers have had with citizens,” he said.

Lewis agreed and pointed out that cameras can help de-escalate and deter situations if people or officers know they are being recorded.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is transparency,” he said. “We want to see and share all the things we do right … along with also hopefully bringing to light any issues that arise.”

Source Article - Orlando Sentinel

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