Lakeland city government should look seriously at equipping police officers with body cameras, Mayor Bill Mutz said today. It’s a topic he’d like to see city commissioners focus on starting in January.

Mutz said he’s talked with a lot of people in Lakeland about racial justice in the last two months, and two topics come up in every conversation: creating economic opportunity and outfitting police officers with body cameras.

“Because of the universalness of that desire … I think it’s something that we ought to put on our plate,” he told city commissioners this afternoon during a workshop on how the city will follow up on discussions of race relations that included a town-hall meeting at the RP Funding Center in June.

There’s no longer a shortage of data or experience with body cams in Florida because they are used in 131 cities and 32 of the state’s 67 counties, Mutz said.

| Ryan Johnson | Flickr

Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia and his predecessors have been reluctant to adapt body cameras because of the costs of maintaining thousands of hours of footage in order to comply with Florida’s public records laws.

In addition, Sheriff Grady Judd raises privacy implications of a law enforcement officer wearing a camera into a person’s home and says that the pervasiveness of cellphone cameras means plenty of crime scenes and arrests are already being recorded.

Lakeland’s police cruisers are the only ones in Polk County that have dashboard cameras, Garcia said during a June forum on race relations. Several speakers at that meeting called for use of body cameras.

Discussions would involve funding cameras, offering a request for proposals and educating officers and could likely take the first three months of next year, Mutz said.

The reason to start the discussions in January, Mutz said, is because he anticipates broader discussions of race relations to consume most of the fall, just as coronavirus protection became the dominant topic of the spring.

Today’s workshop was called to prepare for a “day of unity” Mutz had hoped to hold later this month. He distributed a draft of a plan for a “Lift Lakeland” initiative aimed at increasing economic opportunity and social justice in Lakeland.

After discussing the draft for an hour and a half, commissioners informally agreed to a suggestion by Commissioner Stephanie Madden that a community forum on the Lift Lakeland initiative be preceded by a values survey that would allow key organizations in Lakeland to be heard.

Mutz asked Madden along with Commissioners Phillip Walker and Sara Roberts McCarley to submit a list of groups who should be part of the values survey.

Commissioners will meet again next week to continue discussing next steps. The date for that meeting has not been set yet.

Walker said he wants to be sure that faith-based organizations become involved in any city-organized plan to improve opportunities.

Likewise, McCarley and Madden wanted to make sure that non-profit organizations that are already working on opportunity and diversity initiatives be brought into any city-led efforts.

Mutz’s Lift Lakeland draft:

Video of today’s workshop:

Lift Lakeland Workshop 2020.09.02 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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