No end in sight for installation of 88 surveillance cameras at Oceanfront

Planned locations of police surveillance cameras at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Police)
Planned locations of police surveillance cameras at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront as released in November 2015. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Police)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Three years and a 30-cent personal property tax hike later, there is still no end in sight for the installation of 88 new surveillance cameras at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

In July 2014, city officials implemented a 30-cent personal property tax increase that would pay for a few public safety projects, including $7.3 million for the Virginia Beach Police Department to install high-definition surveillance cameras at the Oceanfront, according to city budget archives.

The project was planned to roll out in three phases that would outfit the Oceanfront with the new cameras by 2018; however, the first 25-camera phase remains incomplete and is over the original budget by $800,000.

As for the other 63 surveillance cameras that would complete the project?

It’s still the city’s intent to install them, but officials don’t know when that will happen, Virginia Beach spokeswoman Julie Hill wrote in an email.

“While there is the intent to install all of the cameras, there is no time frame for the other phases and they are not yet funded,” Hill said.

Southside Daily questioned the city about the remaining budget for the Oceanfront surveillance camera project after analyzing budgets from the last three years.

The first $2.6 million phase of the project was approved in 2014. It promised 25 new surveillance cameras that would usher in a new realm of technology for the VBPD, replacing 19 existing surveillance cameras with equipment that offers a better range of motion and clearer zoom.

In November 2015, Southside Daily reported that the installation of phase one was slated to be done in July 2016. In September, VBPD Chief Jim Cervera told city council that due to engineering issues and unforeseen expenses the project was a year behind schedule and $800,000 over budget.

Part of the original budget was also used on extra camera licenses, an upgrade to the VBPD’s second precinct camera room and new hardware, Cervera said.

On Oct. 3, Virginia Beach City Council approved an additional $800,000 toward phase one of the project with the VBPD aiming to have the installation of the 25 cameras complete by April 2018.

Half of that money was taken from the city’s public safety equipment replacement project, while the other half came from the city’s “fix assets” budget, which retains money from capital improvement projects that are finished, according to city documents.

In 2015, Virginia Beach approved another $2.4 million that would complete phase two of the project; however, in February 2016, $4.7 million that was intended to pay for the remaining 63 cameras was taken and diverted to other projects, according to a Sept. 26 city council presentation.

Hill wrote that the $2.4 million that was approved for 33 surveillance cameras in phase two of the project went to another police department endeavor for public safety record management.

“I wasn’t aware of it. I had no idea,” Mayor Will Sessoms said the unfinished project at a Sept. 26 Virginia Beach City Council meeting. “I thought it was already done.”

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.