COURTHOUSE — Police discussed the planned introduction of body-worn cameras, which may come in 2017, during a meeting of the First Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee at the municipal center this past month.
Police Capt. Todd Jones led much of the presentation, and Deputy Police Chief Tony Zucaro also made remarks and answered questions on the topic, which has been the subject of a number of recent meetings and forums.
The cameras are small devices that generally record audio and video of encounters between officers and the public from the perspective of the officer, because, of course, the officer is the one who is wearing it.
There are a number of factors than can complicate bringing the program in to being, such as cost of equipment and data storage, as well as getting enough people to dealing with requests for public information. But Jones said the department is planning to implement the technology, and he discussed positive aspects, such as public expectations.
“It gives you the opportunity to be a lot more transparent and a lot more accountable,” Jones said.
Additionally, he said, “Here’s the good thing about cameras — it influences behavior on both sides of the cameras.”
This would not magically resolve violent encounters between police and suspects, he noted, but cameras would help in areas such as internal investigations, documentation of incidents and contact with the public, and likely decrease litigation costs. In cases of complaints against officer, he said, “If we could play the video, we have a better chance of making a solid determination.”
Jones also discussed circumstances in which recording may hinder police work, such as instances in which privacy concerns may exist, cases involving sexual assault or children, sensitive investigations during which cooperation may not be forthcoming on camera, or even what happens when someone asks not the be recorded.
The scope of the data cameras might record is significant. The department has 806 officers, and in 2014 these officers handled 400,000 contacts with citizens, including 23,210 arrests, Jones said during his presentation.
He also discussed the size of the city itself, the largest in Virginia, and the million of visitors who vacation or travel here each year.
Zucaro said the issue of responding to public information requests may be a complicated one. The department handled nearly 1,900 requests for information this past year, and numbers have been increasing in recent years.
“We anticipate that once we go live with the body cameras, those numbers will increase,” Zucaro said.
Zucaro also discussed the 150 vehicles with cameras in the city, as well as cameras at the Oceanfront, explaining that these cameras can help back up an officer or explain what happened when there are complaints.
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