The new technology removes some of the ambiguity from encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens, Green said. But the video access leads to added work for attorneys in his office.
In the fiscal 2017 budget proposed by James City County Administrator Bryan Hill, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office would receive more than $80,000 to hire another lawyer, largely in response to the increased workload created by the body cameras.
“We knew that the introduction of body cameras in all cases was going to add to our workload,” Green said.
The local funding comes as the state Compensation Board has already indicated the office needs an additional attorney, even though the General Assembly has yet to fund the position, Green said.
Once the local police force decided to use the body cameras, Green decided to request the locality provide funding for an additional attorney.
“The introduction of body-worn cameras has magnified the intensity of the insufficient staffing issue,” Hill wrote in his proposed budget summary, which is being considered by the county Board of Supervisors.
“The Commonwealth Attorney has indicated that if/when the General Assembly provides funding for an additional attorney, it will be used to offset this cost,” Hill wrote in the summary.
Body cameras worn by officers have grown in usage during the past few years. Civil rights groups as well as police associations credit the technology with adding clarity to interactions between law enforcement and citizens.
But Green said training defense attorneys, police departments and prosecutors on how to access and review the video is time consuming. “We have to consider how to make that video available in such a way that privacy rights are still honored,” Green said.
He said sensitive video is recorded in police video when responding to situations like domestic violence incidents where victims are interviewed.
“Some are very lengthy, depending on the length of the calls, I think we’re aware it’s going to cause some additional workloads,” James City County Police Chief Brad Rinehimer said.
“We’re moving toward having all of our patrol officers having them.” Right now, more than 20 of the 97 full-time sworn officers on the force have body cameras, Rinehimer said.
“I think it’s a great tool. It provides a totally objective view. Officers are able to capture all the encounters we have with citizens, 99 percent are very positive, we don’t have many issues. But for the rare times when there is a problem or complaint there is an objective view of what happened.”
York County Commonwealth’s Attorney Benjamin Hahn said the use of body cameras have added to the workload in his office as well.
“Each of the road deputies of the York/Poquoson Sheriff’s Office wear body cameras. This development has imposed a severe challenge for our office,” Hahn said, in an email to the Gazette. “Our attorneys must strive to watch all of the recorded video involving a criminal case. Furthermore, the rules of criminal procedure require that a copy of all “recorded statements” made by a criminal defendant must be provided to defense counsel, upon their request.
Administrative staff’s time is also impacted since they are required to copy the videos onto devices that are delivered to defense attorneys. We have not requested additional personnel to deal with the extra volume of work associated with body cam videos, however, we are in the process of quantifying the need and will be requesting additional funds and staff in next years’ budget request in order to deal with this technological innovation.”
But Hahn said he still views the access to video as an important tool.
“A benefit of body camera video is reflected by the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” When the entire interaction between a law enforcement officer and a citizen has been recorded, it eliminates, to a large degree, the he said/she said aspect of verbal testimony.”
Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346.