With all the press—positive and negative—that the law enforcement community has received in the past few years, one proposed budget enhancement in Leesburg is something that is building steam nationwide.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler has proposed to equip the town’s police force with body cameras that will allow interactions between Leesburg Police Department patrol officers and members of the public to be recorded. While the make and model of the body cameras has not yet been determined—Dentler is deferring the expenditure until later in FY 2017, after the hire of Leesburg’s next police chief—ones that are being used by other departments throughout the U.S. can resemble small pagers or microphones and be worn on an officer’s uniform, usually on the shoulder or chest. Some departments even equip officers with cameras affixed to tactical glasses.
The name of the game is safety, accountability and transparency for the Leesburg Police Department.
Outgoing Chief Joseph Price said he believes the cameras will work in concert with the fleet’s in-car cameras—set for a major upgrade this budget season, assuming Dentler’s $200,000 proposal is endorsed by the Town Council—to give the department a clearer picture of all officer/public interactions. But he cautioned that body cameras are “not the be all to end all.”
“It’s not going to solve many of the issues seen out there today; it’s just one piece that will help with accountability,” he said.
Interim Chief Vanessa Grigsby, serving in Price’s stead until a replacement is named, also is a supporter of body cameras.
“I think the community has come to expect more transparency and it helps having this tool available. It’s a win-win for everyone,” she said.
While police body cameras are a relatively new tool for departments throughout the U.S., and many localities are still wrestling with how the cameras should be regulated, Virginia appears to be an early adopter. According to a recent Washington Post article, Virginia is one of only nine states nationwide that has passed mandates or policies on how police should use body cameras. The current model policy suggests that the cameras be turned on during any public interaction, so long as it does not affect the officer’s safety, or that of the public.