A year behind schedule, Beach police to launch body cameras in June

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The police department has not received a single body camera almost two years into a four-year program aimed at equipping 450 officers with the technology.

When Chief Jim Cervera announced the plan in January 2017, he wanted 110 police officers wearing the cameras by June of that year.

The department still hasn’t received a single body camera. They remain the only police force in Hampton Roads without the technology.

Cervera says it took longer than first thought to select a company and the specific technology that will be deployed. It also took longer to draft a formal policy for how officers will use the cameras.

“There was no mandate to put body cameras out,” said Cervera, adding he doesn’t feel behind. “Police departments across the country have been wrestling with what is the best technology? What is the best policy? … When should the camera be turned on? When should it be turned off?”

In 2017, Cervera says officers made about 270,000 interactions with citizens. A majority of interactions, he says, will be recorded with video and audio.

The cameras will automatically start recording when an officer pulls their gun from the holster. There are some situations where officers will not record that are still being worked out in the policy that is “95 percent complete.”

“If we are in a situation where we have sexual assault, is it proper to record the individuals; to record the person who was sexually assaulted? We will turn the cameras off in those,” he said.

The first 110 cameras should arrive in May. The officers and supervisors will be trained on the technology before hitting the streets in June. The chief says 220 officers, about half of the department’s patrol, should be wearing body cameras by the end of the year.In the first five years of the program, through 2021, the city will spend $6.3 million on the program. The cost includes 450 cameras, video storage and extra staffing in VBPD and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to maintain and review the video. Cervera says video storage is the costliest part of the program at $540,000 each year. 

Cervera says he supports his officers wearing cameras but warns they don’t always tell a complete story. Still, he expects complaints against officers to go down and hopes the cameras will change people’s perceptions of police.

“By and large our officers go out everyday and they do things for people they’ve never met, they have no connection to, they’ll never see again and I think the citizens will be able to see that.”

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