Body-Worn Camera Workgroup to be Extended

October 23, 2019

The workgroup charged with examining the effect of body-worn cameras on the justice system held its last meeting for 2019 on October 8. Due to the limited amounts of data collected in the first quarter of FY 2020 on the workload effects on Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices, and the lack of detailed information regarding the effects on court-appointed attorneys and public defenders’ offices, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, who chaired the workgroup, proposed extending its work for a year to allow for more information to be gathered. Local government representatives expressed interest in working on the narrower issue of funding for Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices in the coming months in hopes of developing a funding mechanism that might generate sufficient revenue to provide the additional staffing required to address the effect of body-worn camera footage review. (VACo reported on earlier meetings of the workgroup in County Connections; these articles may be found at this link and this link.)

In addition to recommending a renewed effort to capture data from Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices and the development of a method to capture information on the additional hours required for court-appointed attorneys and public defenders to review body-worn camera footage, the workgroup recommended continued support for the Commonwealth meeting the existing staffing standards for Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices, which VACo has consistently advocated.

In addition to developing preliminary recommendations, the workgroup also received presentations on a variety of other issues surrounding body-worn camera use, including a presentation from Alan Gernhardt, Executive Director of the Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council on the applicability of the Freedom of Information Act to body-worn camera recordings. Glenn Smith, Records Management Analyst with the Library of Virginia, explained the records retention policy for body-worn camera recordings, which fall into the same category as other recordings, regardless of the medium used to capture them; generally, if the recording is deemed to have no evidentiary value, it is discarded 30 days after creation, while material of evidentiary value is classified in accordance with different schedules, depending on the level of seriousness and whether the case was resolved or not. Mr. Smith pointed out that the records retention schedules have traditionally been developed in collaboration with stakeholders. There were a number of questions raised during discussion about whether body-worn camera footage might also be considered a personnel record, or how to categorize it once it has been introduced as evidence in a trial, and whether media used to preserve recordings today (such as DVDs) might be obsolete and unplayable in the future.

Kristi Wright of the Office of the Executive Secretary presented some information on the use of body-worn cameras in district courts, pointing out that district court offices are understaffed by more than 200 positions relative to their staffing standards. Dana Schrad spoke on behalf of campus police departments, some of which are affected by state budget language barring state agencies from using body-worn cameras; she noted that there is a strong expectation among students that campus law enforcement will be using the cameras. Lt. Col. Kirk Marlowe of the Virginia State Police explained the pilot body-worn camera program the State Police had in place before the imposition of the moratorium. The camera system provides multiple views, both from the car dashboard and the body-worn camera; in order to comply with the budget language, the body-worn camera view was deactivated and replaced with microphones. He explained that staff time needed to redact sensitive information from video footage was a major concern for his agency.

Robyn de Socio, Executive Secretary of the Compensation Board, concluded the presentations with the data that had been provided to her office by Commonwealth’s Attorneys in accordance with the budget language in the 2019 Appropriations Act. Of the 86 localities using body-worn cameras, 80 reported reaching an agreement with the Commonwealth’s Attorney; 17 Commonwealth’s Attorneys requested no additional staffing. Approximately 40 percent of Commonwealth’s Attorneys submitted the required information on hours of footage received from local law enforcement; nine offices submitted information on time spent redacting footage.

VACo Contacts: Katie Boyle and Chris McDonald, Esq.

Topic Tags: Uncategorized

- Related Blog Posts -

Please urge Budget Conferees to fund state’s commitment to jail costs

February 28, 2014

View Blog Post

VACo Associate Members SPOTLIGHT – Zelos LLC

July 19, 2017

View Blog Post

NRCS offering easement program to assist states impacted by Hurricane Sandy

July 19, 2013

View Blog Post