Chief: VBPD has remote-starter technology for body cameras, but it can’t be used yet with existing equipment

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Four days after a man was fatally shot by a Virginia Beach police officer whose body-worn camera was not activated, the city’s police chief addressed technology not in place that could have provided footage of the shooting.

25-year-old Donovon W. Lynch was shot and killed during a “police intervention shooting” at the Oceanfront on March 26. On Monday, the VBPD released an update that said Lynch was armed and brandished a weapon at the time of the shooting. The officer who shot Lynch was outfitted with a body-worn camera at the time, but it was not activated for “unknown reasons,” said Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate.

More coverage: Donovon Lynch’s father sits down for exclusive interview with WAVY

The VBPD first rolled out its body-worn camera program in July 2018. At that time, 10 On Your Side reported that the police said the body-worn cameras could be manually activated, but that they were also equipped with a remote starter, which would start recording whenever an officer’s gun or Taser was pulled from its holster.

Official sources confirmed to 10 On Your Side that the VBPD is not currently using remote starters on its body-worn cameras. The cameras must currently be started manually by an officer pushing a button.

10 On Your Side investigators sent a copy of our original coverage to the VBPD and asked them if the department’s body-worn cameras currently have the remote-starter capability, and if so, why it was not in use. VBPD spokeswoman Jennifer Cragg told 10 On Your Side investigators that Neudigate would address the topic of remote starters at his Virginia Beach City Council presentation on March 30.

Neudigate told the Virginia Beach City Council that the police department is not using the remote-starter technology on its body cameras at this time because of an equipment issue with the manufacturer. The remote starter — called a “Signal Sidearm” by Axon — would be fixed to an officer’s holster; however, the technology is new and only fits on one weapon holster.

Neudigate called the VBPD “forward thinking” when it purchased its body-worn cameras. The department attempted to buy the remote-starter technology, but the appropriate holster was backordered because of its popularity with police and military. The manufacturer could not accommodate making more than 800 of the remote-starter holsters for the VBPD at that time.

The VBPD bought different weapon holsters that won’t accommodate the remote-starter technology. The manufacturer worked with the VBPD to redesign the remote-starter technology to fit those new holsters at the department’s request. The VBPD has paid for the technology and has the redesigned remote-starters in its possession, but the current screws that would fit the technology to the weapon holsters aren’t long enough to secure them.

Neudigate could not confirm how long it might be before the remote-starter technology would be in use at the VBPD.

Neudigate said the Axon body-worn cameras “passively” record at all times, but only retain 30 seconds of video. To reclaim the 30 seconds of video and begin recording, an officer must activate the camera. Neudigate said he believes that “policing as a whole has embraced” body-worn cameras, including the VBPD.

The VBPD interviewed the officer who shot Lynch on Monday, but on Tuesday Neudigate still could not tell the community why the officer’s body-worn camera was not activated at the time of the shooting. Neudigate said this is the first time in his decades-long career that he’s encountered an officer-involved shooting where there was no body camera footage, no independent video footage, no immediate independent witnesses, or a more timely statement from the officer involved.

The VBPD is conducting an administrative review of the shooting, but on Monday Neudigate asked the Virginia State Police to take over the criminal investigation.

“The Lynch family and the involved officer each deserve a comprehensive and thorough investigation into this incident, and we appreciate the public’s patience as we pursue every facet of it,” Neudigate wrote in a statement.

The Virginia Beach City Auditor’s Office was in the middle of a planned audit of the VBPD’s body-worn camera program at the time of the officer-involved shooting. City Auditor Lyndon Remias told 10 On Your Side that he was “shocked” the officer’s body-worn camera wasn’t activated at the time of the shooting, and that he will be looking at the VBPD’s activation data as part of the ongoing audit.

“We will look to see if this was an isolated incident, or see if there are more cases where an officer failed to properly activate their camera,” Remias told 10 On Your Side in a text.

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