Virginia Beach Police unveils plan for body-worn cameras

Twenty officers at Kempsville Precinct are already wearing the body cams

Capt. Todd Jones of the Virginia Beach Police Department discusses body cams. The dock contains the body-worn cameras that will eventually be worn by all Virginia Beach police officers (Joshua Weinstein/Southside Daily)
Capt. Todd Jones of the Virginia Beach Police Department discusses body cams. The dock contains the body-worn cameras that will eventually be worn by all Virginia Beach police officers. One of the cameras can be seen in center of Jones’ chest (Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The city’s police department has begun the roll out of body-worn camera for police officers, Chief Jim Cervera said during a Friday announcement at City Hall.

Virginia Beach is the last city in Hampton Roads to implement a body-worn camera program for its police officers.

Cervera was quick to note body cameras will not provide all of the information from police encounters.

“Body cameras are not the panacea of police work. It’s not the the NFL where you have 35 cameras that show you when a toe goes out of bounds,” Cervera said. “These cameras won’t capture everything, but we will get a lot of information from them.”

Police Capt. Todd Jones, who is supervising the camera implementation, said the city currently has 20 police officers wearing body cams, all at the Kempsville precinct.

The special operations division will receive an additional 20 cameras on Monday. When all of the cameras are phased in, there will be a total of 450 cameras in the police department.

“Pretty much everyone wearing a police uniform will be wearing a cam,” Jones said.

Related story: Virginia Beach Police Chief: 42% of shootings took place at Oceanfront

Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle said his office’s workload will increase with the implementation of the cameras, as the office is required to review all body camera footage that may be used in criminal cases.

Here are a few other things to know about the body-worn cameras in Virginia Beach:

  • When the body cams are docked, their batteries charge and their digital information is sent to Axon cloud servers.
  • Those servers are located in southern Virginia and Iowa, said Peter Wallace, chief information officer for the city. The Axon servers are stored spaces which meet Department of Justice cyber-security standards.
  • Officers will turn on cameras to record “official police interactions” only, but the cameras also store 30 seconds of video prior to recording.
  • Cameras automatically turn on if gun or taser are drawn from officers’ holsters.
  • All body cam videos are retained for at least 60 days “unless we find a reason to keep it,” Cervera said. Reasons could include videos being evidence for a crime or an administrative investigation
  • The police department is governed by the Library of Virginia’s record retention policy.
  • The police department will hire five new officers over the next five years to help the department manage the video footage.
  • Five-year contract with Axon will cost between $4.4 million and $5.6 million.

“There’s going to be a learning curb with our officers, but as time goes on, this will be another thing they do automatically when they come in for work,” Cervera said.

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