Fort Myers police introduce new body cams

Published: February 21, 2017 7:59 AM EST
Updated: February 22, 2017 11:48 AM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. The Fort Myers Police Department is getting a major technological upgrade.

The department, by the end of the week, will be the first in Southwest Florida to equip each of its uniformed officers with a body camera, City Manager Saeed Kazemi said in a press conference Tuesday. It’s part of a five-year, $1 million contract with Scottsdale, Arizona-based manufacturer Axon that will allow the department to replace its fleet of 142 cameras every 30 months if a new model is available.

“Technology changes all the time,” Chief Derrick Diggs said. “Basically for the next five years, our police department is going to get the latest and greatest when it comes to body cameras and tasers.”

A motivating force behind the decision to get the cameras is the ability to fend off potential legal action, police Lt. Jay Rodriguez said.

“You’re going to see a major increase or savings on that side, because you’re going to see that we are going to be able to disprove what may or may not have happened,” he said.

The new cameras will replace the 40 the department currently has in use. These models won’t allow officers to pick and choose portions of video to save and discard, according to Diggs.

“[The] policy is the cameras will be turned on when there’s any type of police interaction,” Diggs said. “If they are not turned on when there’s police interaction and we find out about it, then disciplinary action will be taken upon the officers.”

Exceptions may be granted if circumstances don’t allow officers to turn the cameras on, but in some instances, the cameras will turn on automatically, according to Diggs.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Diggs said. “We will be doing more as far as technology. We are bringing more technology here.”

Each officer will also soon receive a new Bluetooth-operated taser. Those tasers will be colored bright yellow so both officers and people in the community can see the difference between them and firearms, a department official said.

“This is a big investment for our community,” Rodriguez said. “We have to see it that way, for our police department and our community to just feel safer with us. So we see it as a great investment more than anything else.”

The Cape Coral Police Department also uses body cameras, with 120 units currently in operation. They plan to have 180 by the end of the year.

Most other Southwest Florida agencies cite cost concerns as a reason not to have them. Here’s how several of them responded to inquiries about whether they use body cameras:

  • Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office – Don’t have them. No plans at this point to get them.
  • North Port Police Department – Don’t have them, but continually monitoring and considering for the future.
  • Punta Gorda Police Department – Don’t have them. Not currently budgeted.
  • Collier County Sheriff’s Office – Don’t have them.  Would have to look into future plans.
  • Marco Island Police Department – Don’t have them. Hasn’t been discussed.
  • Glades County Sheriff’s Office – Don’t have them, but all their vehicles are equipped with video systems. The limited number of complaints the department receives doesn’t justify the expense of body cameras, a department official said.
  • Clewiston Police Department – Don’t have them. They’re not looking at them in the near future because of cost and liability.
  • Lee County Sheriff’s Office – Don’t have them.
  • Naples Police Department – Don’t have them, but all of the department’s vehicles have in-car cameras and officers have microphones on their uniforms.

The DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office, Arcadia Police Department, Hendry County Sheriff’s Office and Sanibel Police Department have yet to respond.

See the Fort Myers police press conference about the cameras here: