Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Area law enforcement agencies are using body cameras more than ever, but do they actually help?

Williamsburg Police officers can’t delete the body worn camera files and the department keeps the recordings for a minimum of three years. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Williamsburg Police)
Williamsburg Police officers can’t delete the body worn camera files and the department keeps the recordings for a minimum of three years. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Williamsburg Police)

Law enforcement agencies in the Historic Triangle are relying more and more at body cameras to record their interactions with the public.

The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office started using body cameras in 2015, said Maj. Ron Montgomery. At the time, body cameras were only used for deputies on patrol but since then the sheriff’s office has expanded their use to investigators, civil process servers and deputies assigned in the York-Poquoson Courthouse.

Montgomery said the decision to buy the body cameras came as a result of seeing how videos were being used at a national level. 

“There were several examples in national news where phone video was being played by members of the public [of] video interactions between law enforcement and the community,” Montgomery said. “Obviously some of them were not positive, but when we were able to gain access to full [videos]…oftentimes we saw that when you saw the whole situation, it was different than the snippets you saw on the news.”

Montgomery said he had read research that showed body cameras helped improve interactions on both sides — the community and law enforcement. When a body camera comes into play, law enforcement and community members are then encouraged to behave better because they know their actions are being recorded. 

The sheriff’s office has also used the cameras to train deputies. For example, Montgomery said if a deputy has a complaint against them about being rude during a traffic stop, then the deputy can review the footage and is able to view their own behavior.

“If we start to get a pattern of a deputy that gets multiple rude complaints, then we look at that complaint,” Montgomery said. “And sometimes until they see it themselves, they don’t realize it’s just the tone of their voice or the way they approach the car.”

Montgomery randomly reviews videos from time to time and will specifically watch videos from new hires. He said the goal is just to make sure the deputies are following all the policies and procedures with the camera and to view how they’re interacting with the public.

So far Montgomery said the body cameras have been extremely beneficial in some court cases where a video can shed more light.

The sheriff’s office currently has 90 body cameras, which cost approximately $100,000 a year, and plans to upgrade the system in the future. Montgomery said they are currently looking into buying body cameras that have live-streaming technology that will help field supervisors understand what decisions to make while an event is in-action. 

Eighty-five officers in the James City County Police Department wear body cameras, Deputy Police Chief Steve Rubino wrote in an email Monday.

Rubino said the department started issuing body cameras in 2015 and the first 69 cameras with storage and other parts cost approximately $110,000.

While the department has since added more, the models cost around $700 and don’t include storage and other add-ons.

Rubino said the cameras provide evidence in criminal court cases and to resolve complaints.

John Heilman, spokesman for the Williamsburg Police Department, wrote in an email Tuesday the body cameras are extremely effective recording officers’ activities and supervisors regularly inspect the footage.

He said officers can’t delete the body worn camera files and the department keeps the recordings for a minimum of three years. There are 42 officers with body cameras.

“Beyond that, videos are categorized by their nature, and some may be retained much longer,” Heilman wrote. “As an example, an unresolved major crime will have the files retained for 100 years.”

Other exceptions is expungement and the files are deleted the day after an order from the Circuit Court.

Information on the cost of the body cameras was not immediately available.


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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