Three years after outfitting its officers with body cameras, the Culpeper Police Department is expanding the program in 2020 to provide in-car cameras.
The Culpeper Town Council Public Safety Committee this week recommended accepting a $65,993 grant from the Justice Department’s Byrne/JAG Law Enforcement Equipment program for first-year funding of the initiative.
The in-car, Axon-brand cameras will be integrated with the body cameras of the same brand. Axon is an Arizona-based company best known for its Taser product.
One camera will be front-facing, placed on the dashboard, to film activity in the front of the patrol car while a second camera will face the backseat to capture the actions of individuals being transported.
The plan is to have all 30 Culpeper police vehicles outfitted with the in-car cameras by May or June of next year, said Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins.
Recorded video from the system will be uploaded to evidence.com, the existing storage platform also used to display the body cam footage, according to a town report. The benefits of having in-car cameras are enhancing officer safety and reducing agency liability, the report stated.
Total cost for the new cameras, per a five-year contract with Axon, will be $194,508.
“It’s so you’re not missing anything,” Jenkins said of having body cams and the car cams. “You want a camera going at all times when you are dealing with prisoners.”
The Culpeper Police Department spent more than two years researching, testing and developing a policy for use of the body cams prior to their 2016 implementation. Various existing policies and recommendations for body cam usage and retention of the taped footage were reviewed in developing the local policy, including guidelines from the ACLU.
As for how long the camera footage is retained, the town PD policy follows guidelines in place by the Freedom of Information Act and Library of Virginia, following all applicable laws.
Prior to rollout of the body cam program, all officers received the “Fair and Impartial Policing” training offered through the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
In 2016, 47 percent of the 15,328 general-purpose law enforcement agencies in the United States had acquired body-worn cameras, according to the Justice Department. By comparison, 69 percent had dashboard cameras and 38 percent had personal audio recorders.
Of those, 80 percent of agencies acquired the cameras to improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints, and reduce agency liability, according to the Justice Department. Among agencies that had not acquired body-worn cameras, the primary reason given was costs, including video storage/disposal costs (77 percent), hardware costs (74 percent), and ongoing maintenance and support costs (73 percent).
The Culpeper PD policy for body-worn cameras dictates that officers equipped with the cameras will turn them on: during all self-initiated law enforcement action; during any call for service or any contact in which the officer believes the contact may become adversarial, or when it does; during all witness statements, with exceptions; during all suspect statements where a reportable use of force occurred; when executing a search warrant; upon audible warning of a police dog being used, and whenever the officer reasonably believes recorded footage could contain evidence.