LARGO — The Largo Police Department and its 157 sworn officers is the largest agency in Pinellas County not to outfit its officers with body-worn cameras.
Police Chief Jeff Undestad said he’s ready to change that, but it could take several years before it happens.
Undestad, who joined other high-ranking members of the department in outlining the proposed program to city commissioners April 13 during a work session, said the department needs to keep up with community expectations.
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.
“We’re going to get to the point now I think where … it’s just going to be a normal piece of equipment for us,” Undestad said. “When something happens and people want to know what went on, the question is going to be, can I see body camera footage, please? And we’re going to have to be there at some point.”
When that point comes is still somewhat uncertain. Currently, the program is slated to begin in fiscal year 2025.
Undestad told Tampa Bay Newspapers on April 15 the timing of the launch date is dependent on the budget, and it’s up to the administration or commission if they would like to expedite the process.
“I would certainly like it sooner than later obviously,” he said.
Mayor Woody Brown and Commissioner Michael Smith each expressed a desire to possibly move the program ahead if the funding can be secured.
Undestad said the city is seeking federal funding and grants in order to make it happen.
The cost is considerable, however.
The most expensive scenario, Undestad said, would likely be more than $2 million from the general fund for a five-year contract that would include 157 cameras and digital evidence storage equipment.
The project could also include the cost of hiring two additional full-time employees — one for IT support and another to handle public records requests.
Depending on the vendor, Undestad said there were options to whittle that number down.
He added that there were no offsets at this time, though, so the department wouldn’t be sacrificing current resources to bring the program to fruition.
After a vendor is chosen, the department will start formulating policies on how to properly use the cameras.
They will be automatically activated if a Taser or firearm is taken out, but it will be up to the department how often officers will turn them on otherwise.
“There’s a lot of flexibility there on how we want to deploy them and how we want to use them, and then we’ll create our policy around that,” Undestad said.
The good news about being one of the last agencies in the county to implement cameras is that other agencies have already created policies the department can examine for best practices.
The goal of the program is to improve transparency and community trust, but Maj. Joe Coyle added that it will also benefit officers.
“I think a lot of them really want it,” he said. “The reason is because 99% of the time we’re doing everything correctly. So we want to have it taped.”
He added that the cameras could cut down on some unruly behavior because some people are more likely to behave if they know they are being recorded.
“We’re being taped anyway,” Coyle said. “I mean everyone has a cellphone and then there’s cameras everywhere you go, so we might as well have our own.”