County officials seek $420K for Sheriff’s Office body camera program
Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that in the last five years his office had received just one excessive force complaint issue, but he described the need to expand the body camera program as a “don’t know when you need it until you need it” type of request.
LCSO launched a body camera pilot program in September 2015, starting off with 42 cameras through a nearly $30,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The initial trove of cameras went to patrol, traffic and correctional deputies.
Now, over the next three fiscal years, the Sheriff’s Office says it wants to have 350 body cameras by 2019. Over the next year, the office is eyeing another 77 cameras, which would bring its total cache to 119.
“All it takes is that one questionable incident that you don’t really have the actual perspective of what happened, and then you’re back and forth on it,” Chapman told supervisors. “I would say it certainly is the best practice as far as what law enforcement, police departments and sheriff’s offices are doing nationwide.”
Following nationwide protests sparked by the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration pushed for expanding the use of body cameras at police departments around the country.
Supporters of cameras believe it's a way to help bridge mistrust between law enforcement and the public.
Over the last three years, police departments across the county have been expanding body camera programs with the help of $23.2 million in grants from the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.
In Arlington County, the police and sheriff’s offices conducted a body camera pilot program in 2016 and are now reviewing the information collected. Fairfax County has not yet started to test body cameras, but is researching the issue.
How much will it really cost?
Amid the ongoing effort to expand the body camera program, Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said he included in his proposed $2.5 billion budget a $142,800 critical needs request for video data storage contract services, which would be needed if the sheriff’s office gets the 77 new cameras.
LCSO originally requested for the expansion of the body camera pilot program using fiscal 2016 fund balance. However, the Board of Supervisors did not approve that request.
The sheriff’s office told supervisors the body cameras themselves were not the highest expense, but rather the costs associated with data storage and maintenance were.
For LCSO's next round of cameras, including the 77 body devices it wants this year, the office anticipates it will need $1,200 annually per device for storage costs, maintenance and replacement of the cameras. If the sheriff’s office gets 77 cameras, it will need $92,400 for one year’s worth of devices. If the program is expanded to 350 cameras by 2019 -- the number would swell to about $420,000 in annual storage and operating costs.
LCSO said it was also awarded two grants totaling $58,071 for a three-year period, which will allow them to purchase more cameras.
In a county with a relatively low crime rate, some supervisors asked why the body cameras were needed. Sheriff Chapman himself noted a recent University of Virginia survey that found 98 percent of Loudoun residents said they felt safe in the county.
Thus far, supervisors have made a preliminary budget enhancement of $83,803 for an LCSO video systems coordinator. Duties for the position include processing, reviewing and copying video footage for Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas, court testimony, training and internal investigations from the office’s 260 in-car camera systems and current 42 body worn cameras.
LCSO says that from 2015 to 2016 its video copy requests have increased by about 130 percent, from 1,211 requests in fiscal 2015 to 2,776 in fiscal 2016.
In addition to the sheriff’s office’s data storage need, the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney is asking for $194,660 in additional staff support if the body worn camera program is expanded to 119 new devices.
Currently, when the commonwealth’s attorney’s office asks LCSO for video evidence for a case, the sheriff’s office is tasked with reproducing the video, putting it on a DVD and handing it over to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office to review.
Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman noted the process of putting the footage on a DVD is tedious. Plowman said that other jurisdictions have managed to share video footage though a web based system.
“If we don’t shift to a web based system, the magnitude of work is astronomically greater,” Plowman said.
The overall body camera request is still pending approval from the Board of Supervisors. After the board heard feedback from the commonwealth’s attorney and sheriff’s offices, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said “clearly we need to do some work on this entire issue.”
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