RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – As the holiday weekend approaches, you can expect more DUI checkpoints, and more officers equipped with body cameras in Central Virginia.
In Richmond, 323 city police officers currently have body cams, out of about 670 active officers. Richmond police are expecting more cameras next year.
Virginia State Police will be deploying its first 96 body cameras by the end of the summer in the Richmond division. State police says training, installing equipment and finalizing policy with the cameras is still ongoing.
The agency has about 1,800 uniformed personnel working across the state. The effort cost $480,000, funds from a case prosecuted by the Virginia Attorney General.
Law enforcement officials say body cameras are becoming more prevalent because the technology is becoming more reliable.
“We know more about [body cameras]. There are more companies in the field. The prices have come down due to competition,” said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
“It also helps [officers] with their relationship with the general public. The public then knows when the camera is rolling. They also have some reassurance that the incident is being documented.”
However, body camera policies across the state differ among law enforcement agencies, according to ACLU Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.
“We believe there should be some basics about body cam policies that are the same across the Commonwealth and are in the law,” said Guthrie Gastañaga.
Gastañaga says more than 60 law enforcement agencies in Virginia have different policies on how officers handle body cameras and how that footage is shared the public afterwards, even people who are the subject of the video.
“Yes, you can request it, but the policy says that whether you get to see any of that video, is completely within the discretion of the chief,” said Guthrie Gastañaga, referring to some law enforcement departments’ policies.
Some agencies state that officers will immediately tell you when they’re recording, unless it’s an impractical or unsafe situation. Law enforcement officials say they invite the public to ask if an officer is wearing a body camera.
“Sometimes in the heat of the moment, depending on what’s going on, [officers] may forget. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the public asking, ‘Do you have a body camera on?” said Schrad.
Schrad says departments are working to devise the best body camera policies for their specific communities, while not compromising victim or witness identities, and managing the technology.
“What is really the balance between protecting privacy rights, but also have some accountability of law enforcement,” continued Schrad.
Chesterfield police will have 91 officers equipped with body cameras by the end of this week. That’s after a glitch with the first round of cameras.
Chesterfield police hope to have 450 cameras active within the coming months for 535 sworn officers.
Henrico police’s force is fully equipped with 405 body cameras in service, including all officers and sergeants in uniform.