Local Officials Testing 'Cop Cams'

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BAY COUNTY-- Big Brother could be moving deeper into Bay County. At least 2 local law enforcement agencies are testing body cameras on their officers.

It's happening all over the country, crime fighters are equipping themselves with body cameras.

"Whenever you have contact with a law enforcement officer you should always be mindful that you are probably being taped and keep your mouth zipped up," said Waylon Graham, Criminal Defense Attorney. "The public most of the time is even unaware that there is a camera even on the officer," Lt. Rick Warden, Florida Highway Patrol.

Police using video cameras is nothing new. "We've had them in the cars now for some time and they have been well worth the investment." However, the FHP Patrol and the Panama City Beach Police Department are now experimenting with the body camera units.

"It's in the early stages of us looking to do that full time," said Maj. Chad Lindsey, Panama City Beach Police Department.

Neither agency has actually bought the cameras. Panama City Police say they're also considering a possible trial.

"The GoPro. That's probably going to be the camera or similar to the cameras that we will be looking into," said Tom McCarthy, Panama City Police Department.

Regardless of what the agencies may decide, some departments allow officers to buy their own cameras and wear them. Panama City Beach officials have anticipated that possibility and have already adopted some regulations. McCarthy said, "...It's pretty clear in there when they can and when they cannot use those cameras." Graham said, "Most of the time it's pretty straight forward stuff like filming a suspect, a DUI suspect, maybe a traffic stop suspect."

Meantime, privacy advocates may believe police are going too far. "Use common sense; don't violate someone's privacy. Be cognizant of that," said Graham.

However, authorities say they're camera use follows the letter of the law. "We are still basically not infringing based on the fact that they are strictly for the purposed they are used for," said Warden.

Both sides agree on the usefulness of video as evidence. McCarthy said, "We've all heard the expression may times, 'a picture says a thousand words' and obviously video is a lot of pictures, so it would benefit both side of the house to have those."

Graham said, "It's good for the defendant or the citizen and its actually good for the police officer, it protects both of them."

Most agencies say their main obstacle right now is money to buy the cameras.