In the wake of the anti-racism and police brutality protests across the commonwealth, police reform has become a major focus for adctivists and legislators alike. One element of that includes requiring body-worn cameras for police officers in order to increase accountability and transparency.
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Right now, Virginia police departments are all over the map when it comes to whether or not their officers wear body cameras. Up until this year, there was no state law in Virginia requiring body-worn cameras, so individual police departments started using the devices at their own discretion.
That changed this year, when the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting police departments from implementing body-worn camera systems until the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services establishes a model policy and the agency adopts a local policy after receiving public comment and review.
”Police-worn body cameras protect both law enforcement and the citizens they interact with,” said Del. Mark Levine, who introduced the bill, “With transparent policies for the use of body cameras, we will help increase accountability and build stronger relationships between law enforcement and the citizens they serve in communities across Virginia.”
The law will go into effect on July 1, but until then several departments have plans to or have already deployed pilot programs to test the cameras and budget the cost of the devices accordingly.
Here is a breakdown of some of the programs Virginia police departments have implemented.
According to ALX Now, a planned pilot phase to introduce body cameras for officers has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the new state legislation.
“We are going to go ahead with a cost analysis for implementation to provide to the council for consideration,” Police Chief Michael Brown said, “and we’re trying to accelerate in the light of what is happening now, but it’s a fiscal issue for us more than anything else.”
In April 2018, body-worn cameras became required equipment for patrol personnel. The Charlottesville Police Department budgeted for the use of the cameras in 2015 and deployed them to officers in 2016.
“Body-worn camera activation shall occur at the commencement of law enforcement activity, or as soon thereafter as is practical and safe under the circumstances. An officer is not required to activate the BWC if activation would jeopardize the safety of himself or any other person(s).”
The entire policy can be found here.
In April of this year, the Fairfax County police department was outfitted with body-worn cameras for the first phase in a three-year program. In the first phase, 400 body cameras have been issued and officers, prosecutors and public defenders are trained to use them. Over the following two years, a similar amount of cameras are expected to be distributed.
However, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler warns that future funding could be delayed due to budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports by NBC. The first year of the project costs about $4.3 million and finishing the program over the next two years would require an additional $6.7 million.
Recently, the police department came under fire for body camera footage showing a Fairfax County officer using excessive force against an unarmed, Black man. However, advocates said that the department’s swift release of the footage and filing of charges against the officer are signs of improvement.
Fairfax County Communities of Trust Committee Chair Shirley Ginwright said to WUSA, “We looked at all those policies and we changed things. We talked about transparency.”
In 2016, The Richmond Police Department equipped 40 officers from the Fourth Precinct with body-worn cameras in order to test the devices that the department intends to make standard issue for all patrol officers, according to their website.
However, according to a story by CBS 6, there are over 1,400 cameras in area police and sheriff office inventories.
According to a 2019 story by ABC 13, the Virginia Beach Police Department planned to issue cameras to officers in four phases, giving them time to conduct workload assessments and address any concerns before full implementation.