Virginia Beach Announces Police Body Camera Policy Reforms


The City of Virginia Beach is requiring police officers to turn on body cameras as soon as they are on their way to a call, according to an April 29 video released by the city. Additionally, the Virginia Beach Police Department is in the process of adding switches to officers’ gun holsters to automatically turn their cameras on when the gun is drawn, with an implementation goal of July. Their tasers have a device that activates recording on all nearby officers’ cameras as soon as the taser and camera are turned on.

“Body cameras actually benefit both citizens and the officers. From the citizen’s perspective, it’s a window into our world of accountability, transparency, our actions, and to prove, so to speak, from their perspective that what’s occurring and what we’re saying matches up,” Captain William Zelms said in the video. “From the officer’s perspective, it’s a benefit for them as well. They are so focused on the tasks at hand, all the things that they have to do when they go to a call for service, the people they speak to, the actions they take. So in the end, we we want the citizens to understand that the officer has taken the appropriate action.”

The video comes about a month after police shot Donovon Lynch, who was allegedly carrying a gun, according to The Virginia Pilot. But officers involved in the shooting did not have body cameras turned on. Other reporting immediately after the incident questioned if Lynch was actually carrying the gun.

“We look at everything we do, and always ask the question of if we can do better. It’s no different with this policy. We designed the policy with a set of ideas and based on national best practices for bodycam usage, and then as we develop and implement, and go through our phased roll-out approach, we see real-world opportunities to improve,” Zelms said.

He said that the old policy required officers to turn on their cameras once they were on the scene of a call.

“We are committed to accountability and transparency,” Zelms said. “Our officers support and want this technology.”

Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Director Dana Schrad told The Virginia Star that the new policy is a good way to keep officers from having to remember to turn on their cameras in the high-stakes situations where they are most important. She said that Virginia Beach was an early adopter of body camera technology, and that as body cameras have been used in the field more, manufacturers have found ways to make them more officer-friendly.

She said often it isn’t an unwillingness to use the cameras that keeps officers from turning on their body cameras, but distraction in the moment. Switches that automatically activate the camera when a gun are one solution to the problem.
Schrad said, “One of the things that obviously happens is that if an officer comes on a call, and particularly if it’s something where you have to move quickly, it’s a very critical incident, there’s not sort of a body memory if your body camera is not something you’ve used that long, to remember ‘Oh, I’ve got to turn this thing on.'”
Body cameras do require extra manpower, and storing the video evidence can be more costly than acquiring the cameras, Schrad said.
“Most say yeah, they’re glad they have the cameras, but they do represent a significant cost,” she said.
“Clear policies surrounding the use of [body-worn cameras] is a necessary best practice,” said Maria Jankoski, Deputy Director of public defender organization the Virginia Defenders. “On balance this is a good bright line.  We have experienced too many instances when the beginning of an officer interaction was not recorded. The beginning is crucial to understanding and getting the full picture of what occurred.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Police Body Cam” by Ryan Johnson. CC BY-SA 2.0.








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