Thursday, December 8, 2022

DOJ grants Virginia Beach police $300K for body cameras

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Beach Police Department got $300,000 closer to purchasing body cameras when city council approved the agency’s acceptance of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The VBPD was awarded a $302,000 grant from the DOJ specifically for the implementation of body cameras, according to city documents.

The DOJ grant comes as part of its “expansion of body-worn cameras program for extra-large agencies,” which aims to help police departments who have more than 1,000 sworn officers “establish or enhance” their body camera policies and implementation, according to a 2017 DOJ grant announcement.

With about 1,040 VBPD positions — more than 700 of those are patrol officers — the department was able to apply for the grant, which allowed them to request up to $675,000 for 450 body cameras they plan to equip the force with by 2021.

The grant allowed the VBPD to request up to $1,500 per body camera, although that’s not how much the physical equipment would likely cost. That number includes expected costs for the body cameras, as well as a price estimate for items like software and training, according to the grant announcement.

The grant money does come with a few strings: The VBPD must match the $302,000 — money that the Virginia Beach City Council approved to come from the department’s operating budget on Tuesday — and it cannot be used for storage costs.

The VBPD was scheduled to begin using body cameras to record police interactions with citizens on June 1; however, in September, 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, Virginia Beach spokeswoman Julie Hill wrote in an email in September.

It remains unclear when VBPD officers will begin using the body cameras.

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.

When they eventually are in use, it will be the beginning of the first phase of an estimated $6.1 million 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.

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 VBPD anticipates that officers will create between 90 and 120 minutes of recording 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.

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