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Body-Worn Camera Workgroup Begins Discussions

A workgroup convened by the Compensation Board held its first meeting last week to begin discussions about the effects of body-worn camera deployment on Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices. Language in the 2018 Appropriations Act directed the workgroup to “investigate how body-worn cameras have or may continue to impact the workloads experienced by Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices…and to develop recommended budgetary and legislative actions for consideration during the 2019 Session of the General Assembly.” This directive was an alternative proposal to language included in the Senate budget that would have mandated that localities fund new Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys positions at a prescribed ratio based on the number of cameras in use by patrol officers. Local governments expressed significant opposition to the proposed staffing mandate during the session, and the language directing the study was adopted as a compromise.

Local governments have several representatives on the workgroup, which also includes Commonwealth’s Attorneys, a member of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the Ethics Counsel for the Virginia State Bar, and representatives of Sheriffs’ offices, local police departments, and the Virginia State Police. At the first meeting, Commonwealth’s Attorneys described what they view as a significant increase in workload generated by prosecutors’ duty to review all footage from body-worn cameras that may be introduced as evidence or may be exculpatory for the defense. In their view, a case, such as a short traffic stop, that in the past may have generated a short written police report, may now require the prosecutor to watch several hours’ worth of footage, if several officers wearing cameras all responded to the scene. Prosecutors also discussed new rules regarding criminal discovery that have been promulgated by the Supreme Court of Virginia that are expected to affect workloads in their offices; these rules have been delayed until July 1, 2019, to allow the body-worn camera working group to complete its report and the General Assembly to consider the financial implications of both issues.

Local government representatives explained that the proposed staffing mandate in the Senate budget was a one-size-fits-all solution that did not take into account the considerable local financial contributions already made to Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices, or the collaboration already taking place between many localities and their prosecutors’ offices in the decision to implement body-worn cameras. The state has not fully funded staffing in Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices in accordance with the Compensation Board’s staffing standards in approximately 10 years, leaving localities to provide funding for supplemental positions, in addition to compensation supplements provided by localities to make salaries more competitive. Local government representatives pointed out that communities are increasingly expecting that law enforcement will be using cameras, a view that was echoed by law enforcement representatives.

Future meetings are expected to feature more discussion about how the additional workload for prosecutors can be quantified, as well as best practices on use of the cameras (such as when cameras are turned on and off). Prosecutors requested that the Compensation Board provide data on the potential effects of including misdemeanor cases in staffing standard calculations (currently, staffing standards are based on felony prosecutions, but some offices prosecute both types of offenses). The next meeting is scheduled for October 10, with a final meeting scheduled for November 2 and a report due to the “money committee” chairs by December 1.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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