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Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
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Romano: Cops should get body cameras before cell phones get them

Itís happened again. Another snippet of video. Another Florida cop being questioned.

This time, itís in Coral Springs, and the cop is punching the midsection of a 14-year-old girl who is pinned on the ground with two cops above her, and her hands underneath her.

As usual, the police say the video doesnít tell the whole story.

You know what?

Iíll buy that.

The video looks bad, but itís an incomplete picture. It lacks a beginning, and it lacks context. I think police have a point when they say a bystanderís edited cell phone video does not tell a complete story.

So hereís the obvious question: Why donít we have the whole story?

Why, in 2018, does every law enforcement officer not have a body camera? It is, by now, a pretty simple fix. And yet most of the departments in the Tampa Bay area continue to resist.

RELATED: St. Peteís 4-year body camera debate boils over at City Hall.

Neither the Hillsborough nor Pinellas sheriffís offices are in favor of body cameras. Neither is the Clearwater Police Department. And St. Petersburg, after years of procrastinating in the name of research, wants a partial fix with gun-activated cameras.

Excuse me, but this is nuts.

First of all, cops seem to love technology when it leads to arrests. They like video when it comes to DUI stops. They like video for surveillance. They like facial recognition video.

So why so shy when it comes to body cams?

I understand the cameras are not foolproof, but very little is in police work. I also recognize that they can be expensive, but so are lawsuits and internal affairs complaints.

Mostly, I realize body cameras come with an unspoken accusation.

If a community is demanding its officers wear body cameras, there is an inference that the police cannot be trusted. Thatís a legitimate point, and I understand why some cops might take offense.

But thatís an emotional rather than a rational argument.

Most cops do a fine job. Many are heroes on an everyday basis, whether that means comforting a victim, recovering property, encouraging a youngster or literally saving a life.

But if a handful are unfit for the uniform ó and maybe itís 1 percent, or maybe itís 5 percent ó shouldnít the rest of the cops be grateful if they are weeded out with video evidence? Cops are forever complaining about a no-snitch culture in high crime areas, but isnít this a similar phenomenon?

RELATED: After a harrowing night, this Pinellas cop backs body cameras: ĎThey canít lieí

Body cameras do not need to be viewed as a game of gotcha. They are simply tools that can be utilized in a variety of ways. And that includes in-house reviews for instruction and training.

In most every other way, we embrace innovation. We appreciate technology. And right now, too many departments are ceding the upper ground in technology to anyone who wants to make law enforcement look bad by posting 15 to 20 seconds of emotionally charged video without any pretext.

Itís stubborn, and itís unnecessary. Video is now a routine part of life, and it should be working for cops and not against them.

Here are two simple truths:

1. Good cops can benefit from body cameras.

2. Everybody benefits when the publicís level of trust is higher.

So whatís the downside?

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