After years of incremental efforts, the Albemarle County Police Department is on track to launch a body-worn camera program this summer.
The long-requested program is the first of its kind in the county and will see the department equip 112 officers with cameras attached to their chests.
Albemarle will become the last of the local police departments to launch such a program, following the Charlottesville Police Department, which started outfitting all sworn personnel with body-worn cameras in 2018, and the University of Virginia Police Department, which did so in 2015.
The county’s program comes at the same time as a recent Department of Justice announcement that requires federal agents to wear body cameras when serving arrest warrants or conducting raids.
The county’s program largely will be overseen by Lt. Kevin B. Miller, head of the police department’s office of professional standards, sometimes referred to as internal affairs.
According to Emily Kilroy, a spokesperson for the county, Albemarle has been trying to get a body-worn camera program started for the better part of a decade but had been hindered by technological and logistical challenges, as well as the high cost.
“Albemarle County has been aware of the keen interest by the community about body-worn cameras for several years, but it was really about making sure that we could launch the program fully and effectively,” Kilroy said. “Because the worst thing is to launch a big program and then not be able to fully support it, causing it to fail.”
Thanks in part to technological updates over the past few years, Kilroy and Miller said those difficulties have been assuaged. Specifically, the updating of dash cameras on officers’ vehicles will allow for video from both the cars and the body cameras to be uploaded to servers automatically when officers pull into the department’s lot.
“I understand that the Charlottesville police and [UVa] had them earlier, but we’re a little bit different because we have a much larger area and some of our officers don’t make it into the station during the night,” Miller said. “So, if we have a camera that they’re required to come in and download in order to keep space on it for recording or to charge it, that would not be a good system for us.”
The county police will be using Motorola V300 cameras, which have a battery life of 12 hours and 128GB of storage space. Miller said the cameras will be affixed to officers’ chests via a magnet that will prevent the cameras from falling or being torn off during a physical interaction.
The total body-worn camera program cost is estimated at $115,581 and a grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services totaling $50,000 is supplementing $65,581 from ACPD’s seized assets fund, Miller said. Additionally, he said storage space speeds will cost about $1,000 a month and there is a $150 licensing fee for every vehicle and body camera, working out to around $300 per officer.
“There are a whole bunch of little factors that made now the perfect time; it’s not just one thing,” Miller said. “But I will say that getting the state grant that provided half of the cost was a big win for us.”
The seized assets fund includes cash and other items, such as vehicles, that the county has seized over the years, mostly via drug busts, Miller said. The fund was used in part due to grant requirements but will not be used to provide ongoing funding.
“The asset forfeiture fund would be appropriate for the capital costs of cameras and also potentially future maintenance and replacement of cameras, but the ongoing fees and costs of the program will have to be absorbed in the operating budget,” Kilroy said.
Due to shipping delays, the county police now expect the cameras to arrive toward the end of July and training will begin soon afterward. The evening shift, which runs from the early afternoon until around midnight, will be the first to receive the equipment due to their higher rate of interaction with the community.
In terms of the cameras’ functions, officers will need to activate the camera in order to record both video and audio.
Officers will be required to record any law enforcement action, be it a traffic stop, interviews or interrogations, Miller said. Video retention lengths will vary, he said, with the more mundane traffic stops being held onto for about two years. Footage involved in criminal cases will be retained based on evidence requirements from the Library of Congress and likely held onto forever, he said.
Miller said the hope is that the cameras will increase transparency and build trust between the police and the community. The cameras also have been requested by officers for a while, he said, as the footage can often be exonerating for officers or help them better understand an interaction.
“There seems to be a sentiment, I’ve heard from some of the other interviews I’ve done, that the officers maybe didn’t want the cameras, and that’s not the case at all,” Miller said. “I can tell you that our officers want the cameras, they want an actual recording of what they said and what took place when they were on a call.”
Another complicated issue surrounding the footage is which portions will be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Kilroy said the county will comply with FOIA law and has hired someone to handle that work.
When it comes to releasing the footage, Miller said the commonwealth’s attorney office will be consulted, followed by the county attorney office. Not all footage will be able to be obtained via FOIA requests, he said, as juvenile protections and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protections are also in play.
Miller and Kilroy said they hope to be able to show more of the cameras and how they work later in the summer.