Decision on implementation of body cameras and patrol car cameras for Sarasota police officers to be made before City Commission approves 2019 budget

Police chief also talks with commission about need for new personnel and equipment

A police officer wears a body camera. Photo by Max Pixel via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest question for the Sarasota Police Department’s 2019 fiscal year budget will be whether the Sarasota City Commission elects to proceed with a body camera or fleet camera program for patrol officers.

That decision may come on July 9. The commission will hold a special meeting from 5 to 8 p.m. at City Hall that day to resolve issues about which it wanted more information after budget workshops this week. (See the related story in this issue.)

City Manager Tom Barwin told the board on June 27 that he would work with Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and City Attorney Robert Fournier with the hope that they can attend the July 9 session.

As DiPino reported to the board members during its June 26 budget workshop, she had included a $250,000 line item in her budget for the next fiscal year in the event they wanted to initiate a new camera program starting in April 2019. That would come after the end of a contract for an earlier venture, which the city dropped after it encountered unexpected consequences, DiPino said.

If the commissioners decide to fund body cameras for 100 patrol officers and cameras within 100 vehicles, DiPino told them, she anticipated the annual expense would be closer to $500,000, “if not more.” The city also would have to pay for unlimited storage of the recordings from those cameras, she pointed out.

The estimate does not include the purchase of the equipment, she said.

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. Photo courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Among the detailed expenses DiPino cited would be payment of $25 per hour for a company to review the videos produced by the cameras and $45 an hour for redaction of those videos to ensure people’s privacy was not violated in the department’s efforts to comply with public records requests.

She would need two more full-time employees for the program, she continued. One would be an administrative specialist to oversee use of the cameras, while the other would be a paralegal to handle public records requests, she said.

When Commissioner Hagen Brody asked how much she estimated annual recurring expenses would be, DiPino responded that the amount would depend on how many cameras the department actually used and the amount of video storage it required.

“We have more than 100 vehicles and more than 100 officers,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie pointed out. How did DiPino come up with her figures? Freeland Eddie asked.

“I think that was the number that was picked to get [the program] started,” DiPino told her. Approximately 100 officers do work in the Patrol Division, she added. Altogether, the department has about 169 police officers, DiPino said.

Referencing discussions she had had with City Manager Barwin, DiPino reiterated her earlier remark that she had been asked to put in the $250,000 line item as a placeholder in her FY19 proposed budget. Then the commissioners could decide what they wanted to do, DiPino said.

Freeland Eddie suggested that the board hold a special workshop or place the topic of the cameras on a future agenda before the end of the current fiscal year.

From then till now

“This conversation has been going on quite a while,” Barwin noted, starting in the early part of DiPino’s tenure with the department, which began on Dec. 31, 2012.

City staff decided to experiment with 25 body cameras on officers who patrol the streets, he continued. “And we got, I guess, a dose of reality.” Referring to the latter, Barwin characterized it as “a massive public records request for every minute of every video.”

The state law governing such video was not clear at the time, he added. Privacy questions remain a concern, Barwin said. “I don’t think the chief’s confidence has been clarified [on that topic].”

City Manager Tom Barwin. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

“I appreciate the placeholder,” Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said. “I probably would like much more information,” she added, especially regarding the potential legal issues.

“I think this is a lightning rod issue,” DiPino told the commissioners. If they would like to begin a new program with cameras, she continued, her suggestion is to start with the equipment in the officers’ vehicles. That approach would be much easier to implement than body cameras, she pointed out.

The initiative also would allow sufficient time for city staff members to undertake more research into body camera use, DiPino said.

“I’ve been a proponent of body cameras,” she pointed out, noting that her daughter, who also is a police officer, wears one.

“It actually ends up benefitting the law enforcement officers,” DiPino explained, if they use body cameras. “I think it gives a lot of credibility to law enforcement.”

However, members of the public often believe that the cameras’ recordings will provide all the answers in controversial situations, and that does not routinely prove to be the case, she indicated.

She is aware, she added, that the State Attorney’s Office for the 12thJudicial District, which includes Sarasota County, continues to have concerns about use of the cameras.

Other budget factors

A chart shows details of the Police Department’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Overall, DiPino told the commissioners on June 26, her total proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year is $34,619,451, an increase over the FY18 figure of $33,780,686. She is seeking approval to hire four new officers and three new people in civilian positions.

The personnel expenses for her FY19 budget total $28,447,834. Capital expenditures are projected to be slightly more than $1 million above the total for the current fiscal year, she said.

Among the new employees she needs, DiPino explained, is a property and evidence specialist. The department has been contracting for that work, she noted, but its focus is one of the office’s areas of greatest liability. The department has to secure not only evidence but also property it seizes or finds, including guns, she told the board.

One factor that she anticipates will contribute to the caseload for that division, she explained, is a new risk protection order that requires law enforcement departments to confiscate weapons in cases when people have been ruled to be dangerous to themselves or others.

She also has proposed hiring a captain who would be in charge of a new Office of Professional Standards within the department. That person, she said, would oversee Internal Affairs, the accreditation process and all inspections, and he or she would handle planning and research responsibilities. If the commissioners or city staff asks her to undertake any type of research, DiPino pointed out, “I have no other person I can dedicate to that.”

Another new position would be a lieutenant to oversee all special events and specialty units. A sergeant handles those responsibilities, she explained, so the change would entail just the adjustment for salary and other costs for the higher-level position.

A graphic shows the Police Department’s patrol zones. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

The total expense for the captain would be $199,000, she said, while the increase needed to put a lieutenant in the other position would be $32,000, Shana J. Meadows, the department’s finance manager, pointed out.

DiPino also proposes hiring two new Bike Patrol officers. With their unique uniforms, she explained, those officers are “highly visible.” Moreover, because they use bicycles, she continued, members of the public are more likely to approach them to talk with them, and it is easier for them to handle certain types of cases, such as drug crimes and loitering, especially in parks and neighborhoods.

Additionally, DiPino noted, “They can see things, hear things, smell things” that officers in vehicles cannot detect.

Finally, she has asked for a new detective to handle white-collar crime. Florida, she said, remains one of the top states for consumer fraud cases, and it is second in the nation in the number of identity theft incidents. The detective would be able to work on tax evasion, insider trading, money laundering, embezzlement and bank fraud cases, among others, she added. The detective in the department who deals with that work, she said, has been averaging 195 cases a year, compared to 113 for the other detectives. Moreover, she said, “It takes monthsto investigate these cases.”

A big new piece of equipment

This is an example of a Lenco MedEvac vehicle. Image from the Lenco website

In regard to equipment, DiPino pointed out that she has proposed a 10-year lease for a new high-water rescue/SWAT vehicle to replace a 1987 model the department received in 2014 from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Because of the age of the vehicle she has — a Cadillac called the Peacekeeper— parts no longer are available for it, she said. If something breaks, the Police Department has to pay for a custom piece to be made to replace it.

Over the past two years, she said, the department has spent $19,000 to keep the vehicle operational. The replacement vehicle would cost $329,275, with annual lease payments of $33,100 spread over 10 years.

In response to a question from Commissioner Willie Shaw, DiPino said the department would own the vehicle at the end of the 10-year lease.

As demonstrated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year, she pointed out, “There is a need for a vehicle to be able to do high-water rescues.” The new one also would be able to accommodate more people than the six the Peacekeepercan carry, she noted.

When Commissioner Freeland Eddie asked how long the new vehicle would be expected to last, DiPino replied, “They have long shelf lives.”

Meadows, the Police Department finance manager, explained that, based on department research, the vehicle would be expected to need little or no maintenance for the first 10 years and “extremely limited [maintenance] for almost the first 20 years.”