| Provided by LPD

The Lakeland Police Department began issuing body-worn cameras to sworn officers last December. Patrol officers were the first to receive the cameras, according to Robin Tillett, the department’s spokesperson.

As of February, the department had issued 176 of the 250 cameras ordered, Tillett said. The remaining groups to receive cameras are detectives and higher-ranking officers, including captains and above. When officers receive their cameras, they undergo two hours of training. City commissioners last month agreed to buy 15 more cameras to accommodate new recruits.

Commissioners approved the purchase of the initial body cameras in December 2021. Mayor Bill Mutz said at the time that the cameras were the top request he heard from community members he spoke with about racial justice protests in Lakeland following the death of George Floyd during an encounter with police in Minneapolis in May 2020.

The policy went into effect Oct. 3, 2022, and indicates the purpose of the body-worn cameras is to “capture contact with the public when performing law enforcement duties.”

Here are 15 things you should know about the program, based on the official policy:

1. When cameras should record: According to the policy, “unless unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so,” all law enforcement officers wearing their body-worn cameras (BWC) should “if not already activated by a recording trigger, manually activate the body-worn camera prior to any situation that may reasonably result in enforcement action.”

The policy states enforcement actions can include traffic stops, police chases, when questioning or interviewing the public, arriving to a call already in progress, when making or anticipating an arrest, when searching vehicles, when arriving as backup, and when interacting with people and the encounter becomes confrontational or appears to have “the potential to become confrontational.”

Police reports should indicate in the final sentence if the incident was captured on body-worn cameras or in-car video, the policy states.

2. Always on: When law enforcement officers are in uniform and in public, they’re required to have their cameras on and in buffering mode, the policy adds. Buffering mode allows the cameras to be on standby where they capture 30 seconds of video before being switched into record mode.

3. Where cameras are worn: The cameras will appear on the officer’s chest near their pocket flaps. Officers are prohibited from obscuring “the view of the BWC with the intent to change, alter or disrupt the recording.” The law enforcement officer is also prohibited from “intentionally attempting to circumvent the use of the BWC by turning, walking away, or choosing to be in a position that would prevent recording while engaging in law enforcement activity that requires BWC activation” under the policy.

4. When cameras automatically activate: The body-worn cameras are designed to “automatically activate when the member un-holsters their firearm, if their holster is equipped with a signal device … Automatic activation triggers serve as backup when circumstances do not allow for the member to manually activate the BWC recording,” according to the department’s policy.

5. How footage is used: The audio and footage captured by the body-worn cameras may be used in court, in current and future investigations, to assist with training, and to evaluate an officer’s performance.

6. Where footage is stored: The footage the officers capture using the body-worn cameras is stored on evidence.com, a digital media storage system, that “stores digitally encrypted data in a highly secure environment, accessible to personnel based on security clearance,” according to the policy.

7. When detectives wear cameras: Detectives aren’t required to wear the cameras when they’re not in uniform unless they’re making an arrest, serving a search warrant or involved in other enforcement actions or their supervisor requests they wear one, the policy states.

8. When SWAT team wears cameras: At the direction of the SWAT Team captain, all members on a SWAT team called out shall wear their body-worn cameras, according to the policy.

9. Victim’s rights: If a victim doesn’t want to be recorded, the officer is required to have that stated on video, and then the policy says the officer is to put their body-worn camera back in buffering or standby mode. The officer is also required to document the victim’s refusal to be recorded in their police report.

The policy states this doesn’t apply to witnesses or suspects.

The policy also states that officers shall not stop someone, including a victim, if they are making “spontaneous statements” to inform them that their statements are being recorded by a body-worn camera.

If victims, witnesses or other individuals, with the exception of suspects, want to voluntarily talk to an officer but refuse to do so while being recorded, the policy allows officers to deactivate their body-worn cameras in order to obtain the information. The officer is supposed to state on camera the reason they are deactivating their camera and document the event in their police report.

10. Live streaming and GPS function: The body-worn cameras and in-car video cameras have live-streaming and GPS capability. These features only work when the cameras are recording.

Supervisors may activate live streaming when an officer requests it, if an officer isn’t answering their radio, if a supervisor believes an officer’s safety is in question, if the officer is chasing someone on foot, if the officer is involved in a critical incident such as an officer-involved shooting, fires weapon, hits someone in the head, a police chase that involves death or injury, or if arrests or detains someone who dies in their custody.

The supervisors use the live streaming function to monitor the situation in real time and it allows them to assist with response including crowd management, etc. The policy states the purpose of the GPS function is officer safety and prohibits officers from turning off their cameras for long periods of time to prevent them from being monitored via GPS.

11. When inside a medical facility: It is up to the officer’s discretion on when to record while on a call inside medical facilities. The policy directs them not to record during “medical or psychological evaluations or treatments” and to avoid recording medical documents.

12. School resource officers: School resource officers have been issued body-worn cameras and are to wear them in buffering mode throughout the school day, according to the policy. The policy states officers “shall activate their body-worn cameras when they initiate or become involved in any police service while on school grounds.”

13. If an officer is incapacitated: The department hopes the cameras will make it easier to capture suspects who injure officers. If an officer becomes incapacitated due to interaction with a suspect, a supervisor will upload the body-worn camera video and use it to inform law enforcement officers throughout the nation through a BOLO, with hopes it’ll help them find the suspect faster.

14. Penalties: “Any member who knowingly and intentionally fails to activate their BWC, or intentionally power offs or puts the BWC in buffering or sleep mode contrary to the requirements of … policy will be subject to disciplinary action, “ the policy states.

If a law enforcement officer conceals or destroys uploaded footage by not tagging it correctly in the storage system, they “shall be subject to criminal and civil penalty along with administrative discipline up to and including termination,” the policy says.

Supervisors can also review the footage when addressing a complaint regarding an officer’s actions. “Should a supervisor, while addressing a specific complaint or incident, discover a violation of policy, they will document the incident and adhere to the process identified in General Order 11-3 Administrative Investigations,” the policy states. However, supervisors are banned from randomly viewing recordings with the sole purpose of searching for officer wrongdoings.

15. Public records requests: The Media Relations Unit handles the public records requests related to body-worn camera videos. The unit’s email address for records requests is: [email protected].

The policy prohibits the unit from releasing “digital evidence” such as audio and video recordings that are designated as restricted or confidential without the police chief’s authorization.

Law enforcement officers are prohibited from making copies or taking still images for personal or unofficial use and are banned from using their cell phones to record media captured by a body-worn camera or in-car video, the policy states.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for Jazbablog. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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