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Central Florida City to Invest $9.3M in Body Cameras

The 10-year contract signed with Axon Enterprises Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., will include more equipment than the city originally sought, while costing less money than was first anticipated.

(TNS) — Lakeland officials unanimously approved the purchase of a $9.3-million body camera package for the city's police department, Monday morning.

The 10-year contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. of Scottsdale, Arizona will include more equipment than the city originally sought, while costing less money than anticipated.

One drawback: The cameras may not hit Lakeland streets until 2023.

City staff has negotiated a deal that for a flat rate of $938,000 per year, the city will get 250 body cameras — nearly enough to outfit all of Lakeland's 254 full-time sworn officers, including its 24 staff and administrators.

Assistant Chief Hans Lehman, who spearheaded the department's research into purchasing body cameras, told The Ledger he estimates these body cameras will be rolled out to officers around the end of 2022, or beginning of 2023.

Lehman told commissioners the delay is primarily caused by Lakeland Police Department being in the middle of transitioning to a Computer Aided Dispatch system, or CAD/RMS — software designed to improve response to emergency 911 calls.

"That is our primary focus," Lehman said. "We have to get that up and running."

LPD's Internet Technology team anticipates having the CAD program ready to go live in March 2022, according to the Lehman.

"[I]f everything goes well with CAD/RMS and there are no delays, we may be able to accelerate the [Digital Evidence Management] project," he wrote in an email to The Ledger.

Meanwhile, the police department will work on putting together its body camera use policy, according to Lehman, which will govern how officers utilize the equipment — including when sound can be muted or the cameras turned off. The city will look at rules put in place by other municipalities across the state, including the city of Cape Coral, as possible basis for their own.

Other reason the police department's rollout of body cameras could be delayed include CAD training, supply chain issues, and the length of time it will take to train officers on the new equipment, according to Lehman.

"I would like to add to the extent we can, can we accelerate the implementation? That's a high, high priority to get it into the end of the calendar year 2022," Mayor Bill Mutz said. "That would be a desirable goal."

The contract also provides the city's police with 250 new tasers to replace its seven-year old units that use 10-year-old technology and are no longer covered under the manufacturer's warrantee.

In addition, there will be 165 new in-car video systems to replace the department's current dashboard cameras, up from the original request of 140. The department's current systems use an aging technology that required videos to be uploaded and burned to a CD to be presented as evidence. The number of in-car units may increase, according to Lehman, and will be finalized closer to implementation.

Axon will provide 10 virtual reality training sets to Lakeland Police Department as part of the contract. Lehman said this will allow the city to provide officers with further training in de-escalation methods, handling mental health calls and crisis intervention methods that are not currently available.

Officers will be trained in a new software that will allow them to accept citizens' videos, from home alarm systems like Ring, and upload them to evidence using an emailed link. Right now, LPD doesn't have an easy way to do this.

"In the big picture, the technology is a big step up from what we have in the current system — body cameras aside," Lakeland Commissioner Chad McLeod said at Friday's agenda study session. "It seems like the leading-edge technology other agencies are using that now we will have as well."

One thing the police department chose not to incorporate into its bundle deal with Axon is drone technology, Lehman said. "It might be an add-on down the road."

Under the contract, the city will be able to upgrade its equipment roughly mid-contract and has the ability to send damaged parts back to Axon for repair or replacement. The police department has a limited number of spares for each unit to serve as backup.

Commissioners Mike Musick and Bill Read, who originally opposed body cameras citing ongoing cost as a concern, voted in favor of moving forward with the contract.

"Because of the skepticism I wore coming into this, I was happy to see this done economically," Musick said.

Read also said that while he previously had a negative view on implementing body cameras, he thought the entire technology package will enhance the city's police department.

"I think what we have done today is added a level of technology and unity to that effort which hears our citizens desires broadly," Mutz said.

Mutz read an email commissioners received from Larry Rankin, a 42-year Lakeland resident, urging them to approve purchase of body cameras as his final statement on the issue.

"It's not that body cameras should be used because we don't trust them to tell the truth while exercising their often dangerous duties, rather it helps them to give a more accurate picture of what has occurred in controversial situations," Rankin wrote. "Finding the truth is illusive in situations when officers must make quick and critical decisions in life threatening situations."

The police department plans on launching a pubic educationcampaign in the upcoming months, according to Lehman, to show how the cameras work and what their limitations can be.

© 2021 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.