Benefits of Increasing Security Cameras in Southwest Florida

FORT MYERS, Fla. – We’ve shown you unforgettable footage of Southwest Florida law enforcement moment after moment, but not every agency has the technology.

More than half of our local agencies use bodywear camera technology in some way. Most use body and dash cameras. The Naples police only use audio and video in the car.

All that equipment and training can come at a hefty price tag for taxpayers, but some officers say it pays off in the long run.

The Fort Myers Police Department gave us a peek into their body camera system. Lieutenant Jason Pate recalls introducing the system in 2016.

“It lends itself to a lot of transparency for the agency,” Pate said, “not just to the public, but the agents realize what a benefit and resource it is for them to protect themselves.”

He first said it was not an easy sell.

“Every time you get something new, it becomes different and strange,” said Pate, “and the question is, ‘Why are we doing this? Why do we have to record me?”

Those questions were repeated in departments across the country. Experts such as Florida Gulf Coast University criminal justice professor Dave Thomas said they are a critical part of holding law enforcement officers accountable.

“The reality is that it’s probably the best tool law enforcement officers can have,” Thomas said, “as far as showing what they’re doing is correct or not.”

When it comes to getting the facts of an investigation and holding them accountable to taxpayers, Thomas says the cameras don’t lie.

“They are non-emotional; they just capture the events that happen,” adds Pate, “so it gives a different perspective. Once the officers started using them, they realized that “Hey, so-and-so had a complaint that I did this, but look, my body cam shows I didn’t.”

That is certainly not cheap. Body camera systems can cost millions of dollars. The Fort Myers Police Department pays about $3 million for a five-year contract that covers the entire department.

“That $2.9 million covers the whole range of things that are provided by the Axon company,” Pate said. “So we have tasers, all our training cartridges, we have the cameras installed in our fleet, our patrol vehicles and the bodycams, plus unlimited storage in their cloud.”

Costs vary with the size and needs of each department. Whether it’s 20 or 200 officers using the cameras, Thomas says it’s money well spent.

“There’s an expense and the cameras are good for maybe three to four years, and they need to be replaced,” said Thomas. “So it is an ongoing expense for the citizens. Is it worth it? Absolute.”

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