Sarasota Police Department’s use of body-worn cameras expected to begin at end of June

City Commission gets update on facets of program

This is an Axon body-worn camera — the model Sarasota Police Department officers will be using. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

With offer training already underway, the Sarasota Police Department expects to fully implement its new body-worn camera program by the end of June, Genevieve Judge, the department’s public information officer, announced this week.

Overall expenses for the program, which include not just the body-worn cameras, but also tasers, training, new personnel, “and associated software and hardware with unlimited storage of case recordings,” are estimated to cost $3.2 million over five years, Judge noted in a May 4 press release.

In October 2020, the Sarasota city commissioners voted unanimously to approve the use of body-worn cameras. At that time, Judge pointed out, the Sarasota Police Department committed to rolling out the program by July 2021.

On May 3, Peter Ferranti, manager of the program, and Deputy Police Chief Rex Troche provided an update to the city commissioners during their regular meeting that night.

“Commissioners, I think you’ll be very, very pleased about the progress we’ve made to date,” Troche said.

“We’re a little bit past halfway, getting the cameras on the officers out on the street,” Ferranti noted. Training began on Apirl 21, he added, with Patrol Division officers planned to be the primary users of the new equipment.

The training takes six hours, he said. Personnel learn the legal guidelines for use of the equipment, he explained, just as they learn how to operate the cameras. They also are taught about public records laws — including when video redaction is necessary. Additionally, they participate in various scenarios, he said.

In introducing his new colleague, Troche explained that Ferranti “has 31 years of law enforcement experience. He started as a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office,” serving in that position for seven years. Then, from 2014 to 2018, Troche continued, Ferranti was manager of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department’s body-worn camera program. During that time, Troche added, Ferranti deployed 2,200 cameras.

This is part of the March Standard Operating Procedure document provided to Sarasota Police personnel regarding use of the body-worn cameras. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

In January, Troche told the commissioners, “We were blessed to get him here,” to manage the Sarasota Police Department program.

During a PowerPoint presentation, Ferranti reviewed various aspects of the use of the cameras. Among those, he noted that they objectively record officer-citizen contacts and critical incidents; they enhance the accuracy of officer reports and testimony in court; they facilitate the investigation and resolution of complaints and lawsuits filed against officers; and they document searches, crime scenes and the impounding of evidence.

“The biggest thing,” he pointed out, is that the cameras improve the public’s perception about agency accountability.

That was a primary focus of the City Commission and the Police Department in launching the program, he emphasized.

One other important aspect of the program, he explained, is that it will allow department leaders to review daily policing practices. That will facilitate training of officers to improve safety, he noted.

The Police Department has coordinated with the State Attorney’s Office for the 12thJudicial District, Ferranti continued. State Attorney Ed Brodsky and his staff are familiar with the Axon equipment the city purchased, Ferranti noted, as the North Port and Bradenton police departments, along with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, use the same Axon product.

This slide in a PowerPoint presentation shown to the city commissioners on May 3 provides images of both the body-worn camera model and the helmet model. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Moreover, Ferranti pointed out, the Sarasota Police Department will be sharing its video with the State Attorney’s Office through the same system Brodsky’s office established with the North Port Police Department.

Then the State Attorney’s Office will follow the established legal rules of discovery to provide videos to defense attorneys, Ferranti said.

As for the cameras themselves: Ferranti explained that they record 30 frames per second in the MP4 format with high resolution. Each camera will run on its battery for a little more than 12 hours, which is in accord with the length of officers’ shifts, he said.

The field of view is 146 degrees, he noted, which is not so wide as to create a “fish-eye view.”

The department purchased 122 Axon body-worn cameras, plus a total of 32 others that can be worn on the helmets of the SWAT and Emergency Response Team members. Ferranti explained that because of the specialized equipment the latter two groups wear, the cameras would not work on officers’ bodies.

Additionally, the department deal with Axon included 16 docks through which the videos can be offloaded on a daily basis.

Ferranti did show the commissioners a still taken from an officer-involved shooting in Las Vegas to point out the limitations of the cameras. “The human eye is always going to be better than the equipment,” he pointed out.

The still had a red circle around a white spot that indicated the firing of a gun at the officer.

This is the still from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department video. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Then Ferranti talked about a five-year study conducted of the body-worn camera program in Las Vegas. Between 2015 and 2020, he said, the department saw officers exonerated in 67% of complaints filed with the department, all because of video from the cameras. In those cases, he said, the video verified that the officers “didn’t violate any policy or any laws.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, Ferranti told the commissioners he would be happy to answer any questions.

“We don’t do questions for presentations,” Mayor Hagen Brody responded.

Later, after discussion of another Police Department matter (see the related article in this issue), when Brody asked whether his colleagues had any comments, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch told him she would like to ask a couple of questions.

The commission’s Rules of Procedure do not allow questions for presentations, Brody replied, reiterating his earlier comment.

“Then I’ll just say thank you, thank you for your work,” Ahearn-Koch told Ferranti and Troche. Commissioners had been working for many years to launch a body-worn camera program, she added.

Ahearn-Koch also noted Ferranti’s experience in Las Vegas, pointing out its value to the Sarasota department.

Brody and Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo thanked Troche and Ferranti, as well.

“I hear you’re one of the best of the best,” Brody added to Ferranti.