Town Manager Chris Hively presented his proposed FY17 budget to town council members at a special meeting held last Thursday, March 17.
With a proposed operating budget of roughly $16M one proposed item could necessitate a tax increase. Two of the highest priorities in his budget are a proposed merit pay increase of 2 percent costing $129,221. The other is body worn cameras coming in at $110,035.
This amount would replace aging in-car cameras and electronic weapons (tasers) in an integrated approach including the body worn cameras.
“This is not Ferguson,” voiced councilman Pranas Rimeikis who urged his fellow councilman to take a close look at the purchase of body worn cameras in terms of the costs. “The jury is still out on the real benefits when you think of the costs.”
Hively shared with members that beyond the initial purchase costs, it is estimated that an additional $57,000 could be used annually for maintenance and storage costs.
New to council Jamie Clancey did not voice opposition but wondered at the possibility of getting grants to help defray the costs.
Rimeikis later qualified his remarks.
“I think that people may have gotten the wrong impression,” said Rimeikis Tuesday. “I’m in favor of them but I want the public to be fully aware of the costs and what that will mean.”
While the subject of equipping the town’s police with body cameras may be new territory in Culpeper, other Virginia jurisdictions have moved or are moving in that direction.
The Town of Leesburg’s town manager Kaj Dentler has proposed adding $200,000 to their FY proposed budget but would defer the expenditure until later in FY17 when a new Chief of Police is hired.
Outgoing Chief Joseph Price is supportive of the request and believes the body cameras will work in concert with in-car cameras.
For the Leesburg Police Department it’s about safety, accountability and transparency.
In Virginia’s capital city of Richmond, the police department applied and received funding to purchase body cameras from the Governor’s Office on Criminal Justice. In February of this year, 40 officers were equipped with body cameras with plans to equip 200 by the end of May and more beyond that. The city of Richmond currently has 696 patrol officers.
Richmond’s Chief of Police Alfred Durham is proud of this accomplishment and believes that the use of body cameras is positive for the police department and the public.
In Charlottesville, Police Chief Tim Longo has been working for several years to bring in body cameras. With equipment (that they are renting for five years) now in, plans are underway for officers to be equipped and have training this spring. Charlottesville’s town council believes the department is on the right track.
TASER, International, one of the largest suppliers of body cameras with several models and various options for training, data storage and maintenance appears to be the supplier of choice for jurisdictions.
Fredericksburg and the Town of Orange were proactive early on in acquiring body cameras. Fredericksburg’s Chief of Police David Nye equipped 72 officers in May 2014. For Chief of Police James Fenwick he made the decision in 2011 to equip himself and his 11 officers with body cameras. Both have reported that the move has been positive.
One the strongest proponents of body cameras and a jurisdiction close to home is the Town of Warrenton in neighboring Fauquier County.
“We got them five years ago,” said Chief of Police Lou Battle. “We’re into our second generation.”
Battle said their first round was acquired through a grant with the Virginia Municipal League. “I outfitted the entire department…that’s 25 officers.”
Warrenton’s town council budgeted for the second round.
Battle admits that there’s “a lot to it” between the initial purchase and follow up maintenance and storage which can be done via a cloud format.
‘It’s worth it…definitely worth it,” said Battle who said the cameras work both ways. “The cameras show how we handle our calls…both the officers and the public have to think twice…it regulates conduct on both sides.”
While some body cameras work in tandem with in-car cameras, Battle has both and likes it that way.
The way Battle sees it, technology is becoming more and more a part of their tool set and the use of body cameras for Warrenton’s town police has proven to be a positive move. “The use of body cameras has become mainstream in many parts of the country…there’s a need for it and it benefits the police.”
Just as the public’s behavior can be scrutinized so it is for the officer. “If I get a complaint about an officer, I’ll look at the video and it will tell me if that complaint is justified..it’s all on camera,” said Battle who said that submitting video from body cameras has become part of court procedure.
“I wholeheartedly support any department considering body worn cameras,” emphasized Battle. “It is a lot of money but we rely more and more on technology. Public safety comes with a price.”
Town council met with the public safety/public works committee Wednesday morning to hear a detailed presentation about the police department’s request for body worn cameras.
A final decision is still weeks away as the budget process continues into April and May.
Anita Sherman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org