The tentative Winter Park budget includes body cameras for police officers, but City Commissioners have mixed opinions on the devices.
Do police body cameras have a place in Winter Park’s upcoming budget?
Winter Park city commissioners discussed the devices during a July 24 budget work session — with the majority in opposition of putting the cameras in place.
City Manager Randy Knight’s preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year included funding for the devices, but Commissioner Peter Weldon was the first to speak out against using them.
“Just as a policy matter, I can’t support the cameras,” Weldon said. “As a budgetary matter, I want the best public safety of anybody in Central Florida, but I don’t want our public safety to be a political foothold. The only way I can seem to get to there is to establish a benchmark that says, ‘We’re going to keep our public safety spending as generous as anybody else in Florida,’ and rely upon our public-safety management to make sure they deliver within that.”
Weldon said public safety still should take up no more than 50% of the budget. Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel agreed and also opposed the body cameras.
However, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper was against the cameras as well as the 50% cap on public safety.
“I don’t want to put us in a situation where we have to raise taxes,” Cooper said. “We may find as time goes on that it’s not enough. I’m not as comfortable with the 50%. I’m very comfortable with (opposing) the body cameras. I’m just uncomfortable tapping into public safety.”
Not all of the commission opposed the idea of body cameras. Mayor Steve Leary supported the measure and added that they have a history of being useful.
“I support body cameras,” Leary said. “This is not to check up on our police. I look at this as a way to protect our police officers. We’ve seen incidents across the United States and across the world, where body cameras have actually helped identify people who have been violent against officers.
“It’s a big expense, and I’m disappointed at the expense, but at the same time if it helps protect our officers, which is the way I see it, then I’m happy to support it,” he said.
Leary agreed public-safety spending could be limited but added that the City Commission needs to come together on what that number would be.
City Manager Randy Knight said there are no requirements for police departments to have body cameras — only specific regulations if a city chooses to have them.
Winter Park and Maitland are two of just a few municipalities in Central Florida that haven’t equipped their officers with body cameras.
Kissimmee was one of the latest cities to join the growing ranks of police departments with the devices. It approved a deal for body cameras earlier this year.