Police body cameras tentatively added to Lakeland’s 2022 budget

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LAKELAND – City officials have tentatively set aside funds to purchase body cameras for the Lakeland Police Department in the city’s upcoming budget.

If the money survives the budget process, Lakeland will become the third city in Polk County to equip its agents with body cameras.

Lakeland’s commissioners were deeply divided, voting 4-3 to set aside more than $ 1.4 million in the FY2022 budget to purchase body cameras and various related equipment without raising the city’s tax rate.

Mayor Bill Mutz led the effort to fund body cameras from the city’s general fund.

“This is a human need and ministerial protection which I believe would be essential. It would be very, very serious for us to fail to provide,” Mutz said. “We need some unanimity on this, despite the significant spending.”

Earlier this week:Polk County Sheriff wants more staff, stands firm against body cameras

Other agency:Winter Haven police will start using body cameras by the end of 2021

The mayor previously said Lakeland officers’ body cameras were a universal desire he had heard expressed by many groups during Lift Lakeland’s conversations about diversity and race relations following the summer protests.

Mutz said he believed body cameras were the latest technology in modern policing, which not only held officers accountable, but could exonerate those who faced misconduct charges. The mayor said he believes younger officers expect to be fitted with body cameras, where older staff may be slightly more resistant to adapting technology.

Commissioner Phillip Walker backed Mutz’s motion to add body cameras to the city’s budget, either immediately or in a phased and phased approach.

“I think it’s safe to make sure that we do that and to capitalize on what we know that certain segments of our population have asked of us,” he said.

Walker stressed that he didn’t think Lakeland Police had some of the use of force and inequality issues raised nationally, such as in the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police officer of the era, Derek Chauvin. However, Walker said he sees it as innovative technology, the use of which can help send positive feedback to the community by showing how city officers operate.

Commissioners Chad McLeod and Sara Roberts McCarley have approved the implementation of body cameras, as long as the city can do so without raising taxes.

If Lakeland decides to fund body cameras, he will follow Lake Wales and Winter Haven. Lake Wales approved body cameras for its police department earlier this year and officers are already training for their deployment. Winter Haven has set aside funds to purchase the equipment next year.

“No need” for body cameras

Commissioner Bill Read, who voted against funding body cameras, called Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia on Thursday afternoon to clarify his opinion on the need for the equipment.

“As I have said many times, we don’t necessarily have an operational need for body cameras where we see that about 99 points (percentage) of the calls we make have no complaints,” the chief said. from the Ruben Garcia police. “To say that we need it operationally would be an exaggeration.”

Elsewhere in Polk County:Lake Wales does it all and buys body cameras for all the cops in town

In the whole state:Use of Body Camera by Law Enforcement in Florida

The ministry responded to 102,011 calls for service last year, according to its 2020 annual report from the Office of Professional Standards. There were 55 complaints from citizens, 15 of which were formally investigated by the department. Based on these numbers, 99.93% of interactions with the police were handled without any complaints or issues.

The police chief admitted that parts of the city’s population have expressed an overwhelming desire to have officers equipped with body cameras.

“Therefore, it would be a political decision and not an operational decision,” Garcia said.

Official oppositions

Read said he voted against providing funds for body cameras in next year’s budget because he had serious concerns about the future stability of the city’s economy and financial condition. .

Over the past year, the Polk County Real Estate Appraiser’s Office has estimated to city officials that property values ​​have increased by about 11%. That’s significantly higher than usual, according to City Manager Shawn Sherrouse, because over the past eight years, the average increase has been almost 7%.

Read, a licensed real estate broker specializing in commercial acquisitions, said he didn’t expect the economic boom to continue in 2022. He said federal supports, such as the moratorium on foreclosures and foreclosures. evictions, had supported the market. And he said he was concerned the post-pandemic recovery bubble might burst, possibly creating economic conditions similar to 2008, which saw property values ​​plunge.

Read said his goal would have been to reduce the city’s mileage rate from its current 5.4644 to 5.4324 for fiscal year 2022. This would allow a homeowner with an appraised property value of $ 100,000 after the homestead exemptions of about $ 3.20 per year.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden voted against including body cameras in the city’s upcoming budget for fear of the ongoing financial obligation. The commission initially agreed that it wanted to keep the tax rate at the same level and have around 60 days of cash flow for daily operations by the end of 2024. If that were the case, that would have given officials around 700. $ 000 in discretionary funds to spend on city projects. and initiatives.

“I’m confused to think we have $ 700,000 to spend and it could go up to $ 1.4 million,” she said. “It gives me a big break.”

Madden said she was against increasing the city’s mileage rate. She would have liked the money to be spent on infrastructure projects such as another parking garage for downtown Lakeland or new roads to improve traffic flow given the growing population.

The new commissioner, Mike Musick, did not vote in favor of body cameras but was silent during the discussion held on Thursday. Musick made it clear to The Ledger that he was against body cameras when he ran for office.

What’s the cost again?

Garcia told city officials that the latest estimate for equipping Lakeland agents with body cameras was around $ 1.4 million per year, not including start-up costs of more than $ 200,000. That’s almost 60% more than the initial estimate of around $ 9 million the chief provided to commissioners in March.

Garcia said the higher costs reflected the purchase price of body cameras, new on-board dash cameras and Tasers from the same manufacturer. The estimate also included the cloud data storage required to back up the videos and two additional people to oversee the implementation and management of the system.

The chief said there had not yet been official offers or negotiations with a body camera supplier. The estimates provided to the City Council were based on Axon’s list prices.

“We will not go into a formal bidding process and will not solicit official bids until a decision has been made by the city commission to go ahead with the purchase. of Body Cameras, ”LPD spokeswoman Robin Tillett said via email.

The next step

City commissioners have called for another budget workshop to discuss the FY2022 budget at 8 a.m. on August 10. The location of the meeting had not yet been announced by the Ledger’s print publication deadline on Friday.

Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 863-803-7545. Follow on Twitter @SaraWalshFl.


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