VBPD body camera project to begin in June, could cost $6.1 million

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Some VBPD officers could be wearing body cameras by June 1. (Courtesy of Norfolk police)
Some VBPD officers could be wearing body cameras by June 1. (Courtesy of Norfolk police)

Cameras, data storage and office space could cost the Virginia Beach Police Department about $6.1 million for its four-phase body-worn camera project. The first phase — budgeted at $973,967 — will be implemented on June 1.

Chief of Police James Cervera presented the project’s latest update to city council Tuesday and said privacy and sustainability for budgeting are still issues VBPD is hoping to solve. He also said VBPD does not have the resources to fund all four phases at this point.

“Once we get everything built out, it’s going to be a yearly cost for the project going forward,” Cervera said “Cameras are going to have to be replaced down the road … once we get the project up and running, we will have sustainability costs.”

The $6.1 million grand total would be spent over four years, according to Cervera. This would pay for 450 cameras, additional employees, office space and data storage. Cervera said the latter is the project’s most expensive variable.

“Some of our citizens have said we should keep the [videos] forever, but we don’t think that’s feasible with the amount of data we would be storing,” Cervera said.

Data alone could create a $540,000 yearly cost with each officer producing 90 to 120 minutes of footage per shift, which could equal about 240 hours daily with 120 officers working. That’s 7,200 hours per month.

Another issue Cervera is concerned with is when appropriate times an officer should and should not record are.

“We will get into the privacy issues as we work with the city attorney’s office on what privacy issue we have to look at when we enter a citizen’s home,” Cervera said. “Do we really want to have a camera in place while we’re speaking to a victim of sexual assault?”

Councilman Jim Wood also voiced concern for privacy issues.

“If you’re going into court and you accidentally leave it on, at that point you’re running into legal issues,” Wood said.

Cerverea said if an officer inadvertently records something, they can report it and it can be deleted by an administrator. There will also be periodic reviews for quality assurance for officers, too.

Each camera costs about $1,000, according to Cerveras presentation. But they are also described as two-dimensional, choppy and will not always give a clear view of suspects.

There are several types of body cameras VBPD can go with, but whether it will be clipped to officers’ shirt, glasses or shoulders are still yet to be determined, according to Cerveras’ presentation. But Cerveras said they are looking into cameras officers can manually control, rather than new Bluetooth-operated cameras.

The first phase of the project will introduce 110 body cameras and the officers who receive them will be trained to use them. VBPD is on track to acquire its first cameras in May.

In the forthcoming phases, more cameras will be purchased until VBPD has 450 of them, according to Cervera.

Cervera said moving forward, VBPD will continue to utilize and expand its in-car cameras and phase out its Taser-cameras.

“Some folks have asked why it has taken so long,” Cervera said. “We want to make sure we’re doing this right.”