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Civil Rights Groups Renew Call For Police Body Cams In St. Petersburg

Associated Press
In 2014, St. Petersburg City Council rebuffed efforts to create an ordinance mandating police body cameras.

Civil rights groups are renewing a call to equip St. Petersburg police officers with body cameras.

The push comes after a bystander video showed officers tazing and punching an African American man outside of a gas station in south St. Petersburg on March 9. The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating the use of force in the arrest.

Sevell Brown III, head of the National Christian League of Councils, said his organization and the ACLU of Florida want a city ordinance requiring all of St. Petersburg's more than 500 officers to wear body cameras.

"Body cams have reduced complaints from general public and their respective cities from police officers and it enhances community policing," Brown said. "The body cam is the public's third eye."

Brown led a similar push for body cameras in 2014, but a city ordinance to require the equipment was never adopted. At the time, the department chose to go with dashboard cameras instead.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said his department has been testing a number of camera options since then and hopes to present a budget to the city this summer.

"We're trying to figure when to turn it on and when to turn it off and we're talking to the public about what they want," he said.

Sevell, however, said that after seeing the arrest video from March 9, he wants a city ordinance. He doesn't want to leave it up to Holloway.

"Chief Holloway has been procrastinating for four years," he said. "Is he trying to earn four PhD's in studying body cams?"

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said he agreed it should not take years to form policies surrounding body cams. His organization convened a meeting of Tampa Bay police chiefs in 2014 to discuss best practices regarding body cameras.

"I think this research is actually a euphemism for resistance and I think this resistance is very short sighted," he said. "Like every other technique of accountability, police officers are exonerated more than civilian complaints prove true."

Holloway said he will soon make a final decision about what specific type of camera to recommend to the city council and is gauging public interest in having police body cameras.

"It's about building trust," he said. "If the community wants body cameras then we need to fund it and show that we are doing what we say we are doing."

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.