Officer-Worn Cameras Costly, But Beneficial
Law enforcement agencies in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley are revealing the hidden costs of body cameras.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Law enforcement agencies in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley are revealing the hidden costs of body cameras.
A recording of any encounter between a police officer and someone else can be priceless evidence.
"It's just not worth it to me not to have a body camera," Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney said.
"A video is a video. It doesn't lie. It captures everything," said Major Donald Lowe, Louisa County Sheriff's Office.
However. Lowe says Louisa County cannot expand the program because of costs: "it's valuable information, you know, when you pick it up. But gosh, it's so expensive." the major said. "These things wear out. You need new batteries. You need new cartridges. You need all this stuff."
Lowe says the costs have almost tripled from $22,000 per year to a projected $78,000, and that's forced them to contemplate cutting the program.
"That's crossed our minds, too," said Lowe.
Louisa County spends $1,923 per camera - 13 cameras total - per year, more than several neighboring localities combined:
- Fluvanna County - $500 per its 22 cameras
- Waynesboro - $400 per its 65 cameras
- Charlottesville - $360 per its 100 cameras
- Greene County - $108 per its 23 cameras
Costs vary, in part, because each of these departments use different procedures. Deputies in Greene County have to manually transfer the evidence needed from cameras to discs. The video is erased every 90 days. Fluvanna County’s programs is more high-tech, as video files are wirelessly transferred to a computer inside the sheriff’s office when a deputy arrives.
“It's a great insurance policy, but it's an expensive insurance policy," said Captain David Wells, Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office.
Some law enforcement agencies are weighing the increasing price tag to keep the service going: "Well the bills are not as big, because you don't have as many people. But still, when you're outfitting 20 deputies, that's quite a cost,” Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith said.
"Technology costs are going to always increase. It's always going to be a concern," said Waynesboro Police Chief Michael Wilhelm.
Capt. Wells says the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office recently spent $9,000 on a new server. It's the third upgrade needed in four years.
"It's all [high-definition] quality video, and as you can imagine, that's a lot of data storage that we have to manage," the captain explained.
Chief Brackney says the Charlottesville community demands transparency, so she will move around whatever money to keep these cameras rolling despite the added responsibility and expense.
"On the surface, it feels like a very good idea where you get free equipment. And then on the back end, you don't understand the cost associated with storing them, the downloading, training, the policies," Chief Brackney said.
Despite that reality, Major Lowe wants to triple Louisa County’s body-worn camera program so that all 40 deputies will have this tool. However, he says funding won’t let that happen for now.
"We're trying to be as transparent as possible and everything, but it's all on can you afford it?" Lowe said.
Lowe adds that his office may resort to asking for donations to expand the program.
All agencies NBC29 spoke noted the number of complaints against officers went down with the use of the cameras.
Policy is another issue for law enforcement: With no police body camera laws on the books in Virginia, each agency's policy can widely differ. Some keep the evidence for years, which may explain some of the overall cost variations.