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Commonwealth's Counties

Body-Worn Camera Workgroup Prepares Recommendations

A workgroup convened by the Compensation Board to review the issue of body-worn cameras and their effect on the workloads of Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices has concluded its meetings and the final report is in the process of drafting and approval. As reported in a recent County Connections article, the creation of this workgroup was directed by language in the 2018 Appropriations Act; language in the Senate-passed version of the budget would have required localities using body-worn cameras for law enforcement to fund new Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys at a ratio of one attorney per 50 cameras in use. After local governments objected to this one-size-fits-all mandate, the study directive was included in the final budget as a compromise.

The workgroup met three times in person and local government representatives and Commonwealth’s Attorneys held an additional discussion via conference call. Commonwealth’s Attorneys participating in the workgroup were adamant throughout the discussions that prosecutors have an ethical duty to review all footage captured by body-worn cameras that may be used as evidence in a trial or may be exculpatory for the defendant, a view that was supported by the Virginia State Bar’s ethics counsel and a member of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. In jurisdictions using body-worn cameras for law enforcement, even routine traffic stops may generate several hours’ worth of footage which must be reviewed, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys argued that the volume of footage makes complying with their ethical obligations difficult.
Local representatives on the workgroup emphasized that the discussion of workload within Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ offices must include the state’s failure to fund the Compensation Board-approved staffing standards for the last ten years, which has been mitigated in many localities by local funding of additional positions, as well as local salary supplements. Local representatives articulated the view that any further discussion of locally-funded positions should be contingent on the state meeting its obligations first, and that a more detailed study is needed to support any particular ratio of cameras to attorneys, suggesting that a moratorium on any further deployment of body-worn cameras while such a study was undertaken would be appropriate.

Although all parties are in agreement that the state must fund the existing staffing standards, Commonwealth’s Attorneys were not willing to forego a requirement for additional staff beyond the existing standards, arguing that some offices are not owed any more staff in accordance with the staffing standards, but are struggling to keep up with the additional workload generated by body-worn camera footage. Likewise, they were not willing to support further study of the issues surrounding body-worn camera use without additional staff being provided in the near-term.

In an effort to avoid last session’s Senate-approved language being reintroduced, the workgroup’s compromise recommendations involve several elements:

State funding for full staffing in accordance with the state-adopted staffing standards will be a top priority recommendation. The House Appropriations Committee included funding 25 percent of full staffing standards as a priority item in the list presented to members at the Committee retreat last week.

Localities currently using body-worn cameras will have the ability to work with their respective Commonwealth’s Attorneys to come to an agreement on the need for additional staff. Localities considering deploying the cameras should meet with their Commonwealth’s Attorney in advance to talk though the implications for the locality and the prosecutor’s office.

If the locality and the Commonwealth Attorney fail to agree, the mandated staffing ratio would take effect (Commonwealth’s Attorneys on the workgroup amended the ratio from 1 attorney per 50 cameras, which would have been required under the 2018 Senate budget language, to 1 attorney per 75 cameras). The ratio would take into account local support for additional staff that have already been provided to address body-worn camera-related workload.

A more detailed study would be undertaken, and the proposed staffing ratios would be revisited at the conclusion of the study.

The workgroup report is being drafted by Compensation Board staff and is scheduled to be presented to the Compensation Board for its approval on November 28.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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