Key West police adjust to wearing body cameras

Key West police officer Thomas Stutz shows the location of his recently-issued body camera.
Key West police officer Thomas Stutz shows the location of his recently-issued body camera.

In the midst of a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, Key West police Officer Thomas Stutz takes a swig of his coffee while his 19-month-old son, Ryker, sleeps at home.

Stutz recalls being cursed at and spit on by people during his eight years with the department. But, the Army veteran, who also did a 13-month deployment in Iraq during the start of the war in 2003, does not take arresting someone lightly. He says they have to “earn” jail time. 

“I take it very seriously taking someone’s freedoms away,” Stutz said. 

Last month, the department starting using 100 Vievu LE3 body cameras paid for by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. 

During a Friday night shift, the body camera is centered on Stutz’s chest. He activates it when dealing with a possible domestic disturbance on Washington Street as the green light on the device flickers at regular intervals. 

“I think it’s going to capture so much more,” Stutz said. 

Stutz alluded to the ongoing conversation with police officers and their interactions with people, particularly minorities. Over the last year, police-involved shootings have taken the lives of African-Americans, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., to name a couple, causing a national uproar. 

But, Stutz says he does not see color when he’s on patrol. 

When Stutz questions people, he tries to put them at ease. 

“You’re not just a police officer, you’re like a counselor, you’re like a medic sometimes,” he said.

Key West resident Jason Hoegle, who does information technology, thinks body cameras will keep both sides honest. 

“It’s going to make things a lot calmer psychologically, they know they’re on camera,” Hoegle said. 

Meanwhile, Darrell Waldon, who has spent more than a half-century in Key West, is in favor of the cameras, but believes the police needs to have better communication with the community. 

“If you can’t respect the policemen, who can you respect?” Waldon, who works for the U.S. Navy, said. “Everything is not a life-threatening situation.” 

The burden of proof from the cameras is important for Scott Curry, who owns Curry & Sons Printing on Flagler Avenue. Curry’s son is a Sheriff’s Office deputy. 

There will now be a record of his son’s word. It’ll help those who don’t usually have run-ins with the law too, Curry said. 

“I think it’s good for the guys that don’t get in trouble,” Curry said. 

Stutz maintains the same tone when talking to folks on his route during the Friday night shift, whether someone ends up in the back of his police cruiser in handcuffs, or not. 

“If you do it right, even the ones you arrest, you can still maintain a civil relationship,” Stutz said.