VIRGINIA BEACH — More than three months after some Virginia Beach police officers were slated to begin wearing body cameras, the department still hasn’t ordered the equipment.
The Virginia Beach Police Department was scheduled to begin using body cameras to record police interactions with citizens on June 1; however, on Thursday, VBPD spokeswoman Linda Kuehn said the department was still “in the process” of acquiring them.
Instead of having body cameras in use by June, the VBPD was testing equipment options from potential vendors. As of now, the department is evaluating those tests before it makes its final purchase, Virginia Beach spokeswoman Julie Hill wrote in an email.
When asked for a new date the body cameras are expected to go live, Hill said that there is none, but the department understands “the priority.”
The VBPD is the only Southside police department that isn’t using body cameras on its force.
The Chesapeake Police Department led the way when it began using body cameras in 2008, and the Norfolk Police Department followed suit in 2015. The Portsmouth Police Department equipped its officers with body cameras earlier this year.
At a Jan. 3 Virginia Beach City Council meeting, VBPD Chief James Cervera said that some of his staff would begin using body cameras by June 1. Had it been accomplished, that would have been the beginning of the first phase of a multi-million dollar body camera project that is scheduled to be finished by 2021.
The first phase is budgeted for $973,967, which would include 110 body cameras for some members of the force, which as of January employed just over 800 officers, according to a VBPD public presentation.
With help from Drug Enforcement Agency funds, the VBPD plans to buy 450 body cameras for their officers by 2021. The total project could cost about $6.1 million when the price of additional employees to review and redact the footage, with office space and data storage factored in.
Although the department has not come up with an official policy for the use of future body cameras, a draft of their potential policy explains that the cameras are to be turned on whenever an officer makes contact with a citizen.
The hope is that using the cameras will increase department transparency and accountability, as well as better document crime scenes and decrease lawsuits.
The VBPD anticipates that officers will create between 90 and 120 minutes of recordings each shift and that it will take a city employee between five and eight hours to “research, redact and release” a single hour of body camera footage, according to the January VBPD presentation.
In this year’s budget, more than $56,000 was requested — but not granted — for a city employee who would help answer a growing number of Freedom of Information Act requests, which have increased from 698 in 2006 to more than 3,200 by Sept. 2016.
The growth in FOIA requests is in part “driven by advances in technology (in-car cameras and eventually body cameras),” according to the budget.
Although the topic of body cameras has increased nationally in the wake of police brutality allegations against police departments across the country, actual data on the use of body cameras in American police departments is still in its preliminary stages.
As of 2013, an estimated 32 percent of the country’s police departments were using body cameras, according to a 2015 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That survey was the first time the bureau asked for information about body cameras.
According to a report published by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the first real study on the use of body cameras was conducted by the Rialto Police Department. That study found that use of body cameras reduced use-of-force incidents within the department by nearly 60 percent and reduced citizen complaints against officers by more than 87 percent.
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