Body cameras help close cases in Southwest Florida
FORT MYERS, Fla. Images from police body cameras showed police on the Las Vegas strip rush into danger when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in early October.
Similar eerie images emerged in the months after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
They have also captured controversial encounters, like a fatal shooting in Utah in August that reinvigorated a national debate on police use of force.
In Southwest Florida, the agencies who’ve adopted the technology said active shooting scenes and police accountability are just one small piece of how useful the cameras can be.
“We live in a world where everybody wants to see the video – video or it didn’t happen. You see that saying all the time,” said Corporal Phillip Mullen of the Cape Coral Police Department.
The agency was the first in the area to start using body cameras, and in June they showed their worth.
Cape Coral Police said Christopher Moran killed two people, fled police, and then got into a shoot-out with responding officers.
The agencies entire response, including the shootout that ended in Moran’s death was captured on body cameras.
Mullen said its just one example of where they add a layer of protection for police officers and the public.
The Fort Myers police department said it embraced the technology for the same reason. With the emergence of bystander cell phone videos anytime officers use force, the body cameras allow the entire story to be told.
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“Thirty seconds before that what they didn’t capture, or purposely are not showing, is the suspect reaching for a gun in his waistband… the body cameras capture the entire thing.” said Captain Jay Rodriguez.
When FMPD responded to an apartment complex with reports of shots fired, several body cameras show how the officers worked together to find out what was going on and make an arrest.
The cameras captured the officers talking to a neighbor who said the man rushed into her apartment to hide from police and then dropped his gun. The video captured her raw reaction and the gun laying on the floor.
Eventually suspect Derrick Kinchen was located and arrested. He is now awaiting sentencing on federal felony gun possession charges.
“That’s obviously a very valuable tool for criminal proceedings and also for the officer for reporting purposes, “ said Rodriguez.
The Fort Myers Police Department will spend more than a million dollars over the course of five years for the cameras and video storage associated with them. The Cape Coral Police Department’s price tag for a similar timeframe is $700,000.
Both departments were able to take advantage of some grant money for the initial purchase and implementation of the cameras.
Other agencies in Southwest Florida, said cost was a major drawback to getting their officers outfitted with cameras.
The Naples police department said that grants do not fund the storage costs associated with the cameras, but so far the department has not entertained any plans to purchase them.
The Collier County and Charlotte County Sheriff’s offices also pointed to cost and storage concerns as they consider adopting cameras. Both agencies also pointed out a concern of responsible release of footage under Florida’s public records law.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said it does not have any immediate plans to utilize the cameras, but it’s open to any and all new technology in the future.
The Punta Gorda police department said the cameras have been up for discussion, but so far it’s not utilizing them.