The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was among the local agencies that implemented body-worn camera programs in recent months. Largo is now proposing its own program, which was budgeted to begin in 2025, but city commissioners would like to expedite that launch.

LARGO — The Largo Police Department last month rolled out a plan to outfit its 157 members with body-worn cameras. However, unless additional funding could be secured, the $2 million-plus program wasn’t slated to launch until 2025 because of budget restrictions.

“I would certainly like it sooner than later, obviously,” Chief Jeff Undestad told Tampa Bay Newspapers.

It looks like he might be getting his wish after both the City Commission and Finance Advisory Board recently urged city administration to accelerate the program.

“I do support and I would really like to see the body-worn cameras moved up,” Commissioner Eric Gerard said May 11 during a work session at City Hall. “I don’t know if you can move them up to next year, but I would certainly like to see it moved up. I think waiting until 2025 is too long on a number of fronts.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s death last year, several Pinellas agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department, have added camera programs. Even smaller local departments in Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs and Gulfport utilize the technology to record interactions.

Gerard said both the public and officers deserve to have the equipment in place.

“I think the officers really are looking for these things because it is a protection for them and also it just doesn’t look good for the city of Largo to be waiting,” he said. “… I don’t want to be the last one out of the gate.”

A consensus of commissioners agreed that moving up the timeline would benefit the department and could end up saving the city money on legal bills. 

I’m “110% behind that,” Commissioner Donna Holck said. “The sooner the better. Protects our officers and our city. You have Morgan & Morgan and all these people out there telling you to sue your grandmother. So we need to protect our officers and our city.”

Commissioner John Carroll, a former Largo police chief, said he was encouraged by the discussion in expediting the program. 

He added that it might not be a bad thing that Largo wasn’t the first to implement the program because now officers are more open to the idea and it has a better chance of success.

“The fact that the officers themselves, not only just at Largo Police but in general, have become accustomed to and in fact desire this kind of technology … I think there is a big benefit to it being implemented successfully.”

Finding funding

Where that money will come from is still uncertain. 

A contract with a vendor hasn’t been secured yet, but it will likely be a five-year deal for more than $2 million.

The Finance Advisory Board recommended using funding from the federal American Rescue Plan. 

City Manager Henry Schubert said that might not be so simple, though. The city was initially slated to receive $13.9 million from the COVID relief plan. Now it’s $12.9 million.

“Somehow we’ve already lost a million dollars and we haven’t started yet,” he said.

He added that the U.S. Treasury recently released new guidelines on how the money can be spent and there are a “few more restrictions than I think we initially anticipated.” 

He said city staff will be studying the guidelines and are willing to be creative in finding ways to spend the money.