The workgroup examining issues surrounding the effect of body-worn cameras of the public safety and judicial systems met on November 13. This workgroup, chaired by Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, is an extended and expanded version of an initial study group convened by the Compensation Board in 2018 to review the effects of body-worn cameras on the workload of Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices. In an effort to better gauge the amount of time prosecutors must spend reviewing body-worn camera footage, language was included in the 2019 Appropriations Act requiring Commonwealth’s Attorneys to collect data on the amount of footage received from law enforcement and time spent redacting footage, and to report this data quarterly. This language was continued in the 2020 Appropriations Act, which also extended the workgroup so that more robust data could be collected.
Robyn de Socio, Executive Secretary of the Compensation Board, reported at the November 13 meeting on the data collected for FY 2020. Participation among Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices, with 48 offices reporting at least partial data (representing 55 percent of the 87 offices with body-worn cameras in use in their localities), had improved from fall of 2019 (when 42 percent of offices reported data for the first quarter). Participating offices, which tended to represent localities where body-worn cameras are most widely used, reported receiving approximately 11,853 hours of footage each month across 46 offices (which would represent an average of approximately 258 hours per office per month). Workgroup members recommended continuing the study to allow more complete data to be generated, and representatives of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys pledged to continue working with Ms. de Socio to improve participation in the data collection efforts.
Erik Smith of the Department of Criminal Justice Services presented information on the new body-worn camera grant program that was included in the state budget passed during the special session and signed by the Governor this week. Legislation sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves to create a special fund to assist state or local law enforcement with the costs of purchasing, operating, and maintaining body-worn camera systems passed the Senate but failed to emerge from the House Appropriations Committee; instead, the concept was embedded in the state budget, which provided $6.4 million in FY 2021 for one-time grants to law enforcement agencies to cover one-time costs such as equipment, data storage, and technology. A 50 percent local match is required. The Department plans to solicit grant applications in December and make awards in March 2021.
State funding to meet current Compensation Board staffing standards for Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices remains a priority for VACo. The budget passed by the General Assembly in March included funding for 25 percent of the positions owed under current staffing standards, but these dollars were unallotted in April and eliminated in August.