Sheriff Mike Chapman is asking for money to purchase an unmanned aerial vehicle and more body cameras as supervisors begin evaluating the needs for the next budget cycle.
The Sheriff’s Office launched a pilot program last fall with 42 body-worn cameras assigned to patrol, traffic and correctional deputies. This year, the sheriff wants to add 77 cameras, toward an eventual goal of 350 in fiscal year 2019.
“When it comes to serving your community, trust is obviously a big factor in law enforcement,” Chapman told the board’s finance committee. “You see a story every day where that trust has been violated, and we’re trying to make sure we have that transparency and the ability to provide that actual footage.”
However, Chapman said he does not believe all footage would be open to disclosure under Freedom of Information Act requests.
“Certainly, if we had some sort of internal incident that didn’t rise to the level of a criminal incident, we wanted to review it internally, that would not be subject to FOIA if we were doing that,” Chapman said. “Or if we wanted to use it for some sort of training purposes or procedural evaluations on how we’re handling ourselves out there.”
There are also times the cameras would be turned off, said Lieutenant Colonel Bob Buckman—such as when interviewing minors. Buckman said although Virginia has no standard for how long an office should retain those recordings, the current best practice is to hold them for six months unless they are needed in a court case.
The cameras would be purchased with $28,541 in Justice Assistance Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice. If the county agrees, it would need to pay out an additional $142,308 per year for those 119 current and future cameras, which are expected to cost $1,200 per year each for data storage, maintenance, and replacement. The previous year’s maintenance and data storage costs will be paid from leftover funds in fiscal year 2016.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman also expects that if the sheriff’s office ultimately rolls out 350 cameras, he will need to hire four additional attorneys and two administrative support staff to cope with the additional workload.
“When you have three or four officers on a scene for two hours, well, you’ve just greatly magnified the physical time it takes to review a case,” Plowman said. “…It greatly magnifies the time that an attorney has to spend even on a misdemeanor case in reviewing all those videos, and there’s no way to fast forward through it. You have to watch it.”
His office estimates for every 100 cameras, he will need to hire an additional attorney to deal with the workload.
However, both he and Chapman see benefits to the program. Plowman said the body-warn cameras encourage better conduct from both officers and citizens.
“It deescalates a lot of confrontational situations, as soon as that citizen realizes that they’re being filmed,” Plowman said.
Chapman said the body-worn cameras are also “a great evidentiary tool.”
“It’s becoming the industry standard, as you see,” Chapman said.
The sheriff’s office would also like to purchase a $100,000 drone.
The Lockheed Martin Indago Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial System would include the drone itself, an infrared camera, drone software, training, FAA Certificate of Authorization, and “limited maintenance.” It would also include a Project Lifesaver payload, part of technology from a non-profit organization that applies tracking technology to people with cognitive disorders—such as dementia Alzheimers, or developmental disabilities—for search-and-rescue operations.
Buckman said the department’s UAV options are limited by their compatibility with the Project Lifesaver payload. He also said the UAV provides some advantages over helicopters, not least of which is that the Fairfax Police Department, because of weather or workload, may not always be able to provide prompt helicopter support to Loudoun. In the past year, he said, Loudoun has had 17 search and rescue operations.
Supervisors and the Department of Management and Budget staff will balance this and requests from other departments as they begin to shape the FY 2018 budget.