Friday, December 9, 2022

City Begins Process to Give Officers Body Cameras

Williamsburg Police Chief David C. Sloggie is requesting the Taser Axon body cameras for officers. (Courtesy City of Williamsburg)
Williamsburg Police Chief David C. Sloggie is requesting the Taser Axon body cameras for officers. (Courtesy City of Williamsburg)

Over the next year, the City of Williamsburg will look to provide body cameras to each of its patrol officers.

The Williamsburg Police Department is proposing the purchase of 32 Taser Axon body cameras, five docking stations and a five-year full maintenance plan for the hardware.

The cameras would cost the city about $49,632 in the first year then $38,016 annually for five years.

The department has 37 officers; the five-person command staff would not be equipped with the cameras.

Chief David C. Sloggie presented the pros, cons and costs associated with officers using body cameras at City Council’s work session Monday.

Sloggie noted the department has had an “excellent experience” with the dashboard cameras in police cruisers, as they have helped to provide stronger courtroom evidence, exonerate officers who have received unfair complaints, identify inappropriate officer behavior and offer supervisors a training tool to help officers better handle situations.

“I have not found a police officer yet who is not supportive of a body-worn camera, and I think that would be surprising to a lot of people,” said Sloggie, who also offered his own support for the purchase.

Similarly, studies on body cameras have shown their use increases transparency, improves citizen and officer behavior, reduces citizen complaints, reduces officers’ use of force, expedites the resolution of complaints, improves evidence for the courtroom and offers police training opportunities, Sloggie said.

While Sloggie presented research that showed the presence of cameras often serve as a deterrent for an already intense situation to escalate, he also offered personal anecdotes to illustrate how cameras induce “socially desirable” behavior.

“I noticed that when I was talking to a news print reporter it was completely different than when WAVY TV would show up and there was the camera. You tend to be a little more quiet and reserved in your approach [with a camera present] and cautious as to what you’re specifically saying,” Sloggie said, adding he noticed City Council adopted a more formal tone once the city began recording and airing its meetings.

Though he gave his general support for body cameras, Sloggie warned the city should be aware of the challenges involved in creating the policy and implementing the roll-out.

He urged the policy should be sensitive to the privacy of both officers and citizens, and must have practical requirements for the department that take into consideration the battery life of the body cameras and the man hours necessary for reviewing the recordings of each officer.

Sloggie suggested the policy encourage officers to notify citizens they are being recorded when it is reasonable and safe to do so, and require officers to turn on the camera when their interactions with citizens involve actual or potential law violations.

“All traffic stops, all calls for service generally would have the use of the body-worn camera,” Sloggie said. “The general feeling is if they have standing to be there, they have standing to have that camera on to protect ourselves and the citizens who are being confronted by the police.”

Sloggie set out a proposed timeline, which includes a period of time to educate the public and officers, that would put the cameras on officers’ uniforms by September 2016. The timeline depends on City Council adopting a new policy and approving the funding to make the purchase.

City staff, including Sloggie, will work over the next few months to draft a policy for the body cameras for City Council’s consideration. Sloggie said he will also include funds for the cameras in his department budget request.

If approved, Williamsburg Police Department would be the last of the Greater Williamsburg law enforcement agencies to roll out body cameras.

All deputies with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office wear body cameras; about 37 percent of officers with the James City County Police Department now have body cameras, with all officers expected to wear them within the next year.

Though the department had already been researching body cameras over the past few years – including in 2012 when they looked at them as an option instead of the dashboard cameras currently in use – the possibility of purchasing them became more likely after City Council identified body cameras for officers as a public safety priority during its August retreat as part of its process to amend the city’s 2015-16 Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes document.

The GIOs are adopted biennially with revisions made at the halfway point of each cycle.

Both City Council and Sloggie acknowledged the ongoing national conversation regarding body cameras that stemmed from police brutality complaints around the country. While Sloggie supports the city’s use of body cameras, he also lamented how the reputation of good officers can suffer because of bad behavior elsewhere.

“Recent negative incidents have affected officers everywhere, even here in Williamsburg. It’s sad that 20 incidents around the country compared with 20 million contacts between police officers and civilians have risen up and hurt the reputation of police officers,” said Sloggie, who also thanked the community and City Council for their strong support of the Williamsburg Police. “Body cameras are a welcome opportunity to ensure all of our citizens that we perform our mission in an appropriate, transparent and just manner.”

Though City Council took no specific action on the proposal Monday, all five council members gave their support to the idea of equipping officers with body cameras.

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