When police departments began equipping their officers with body cameras, I thought it was a great idea. Capturing a video record of police encounters could settle a lot of controversies. It never occurred to me that reviewing the video would be so exorbitantly time consuming that local prosecutors would have to hire additional employees — or that local governments would balk at the expense.
Earlier this year Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, proposed requiring any locality buying body cameras for patrol officers to hire one additional entry-level assistant commonwealth’s attorney for every 50 body cameras deployed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch informs us.
Other lawmakers nixed the idea but, in the grand tradition of the General Assembly, decided to study the matter. Now a special panel is investigating, in the words of the budget language, “how body worn cameras have or may continue to impact the workloads experienced by Commonwealth’s Attorneys offices.”
In Chesterfield County, body cameras have become quite the burden, reports the T-D. Commonwealth’s Attorney William Davenport has said that the hours of footage exceeds the capacity of his staff to watch it. The workload, he said, caused him to recently curtail the number of misdemeanors his office prosecutes. Meanwhile, the county’s new police chief is re-examining when officers turn on their cameras during an incident and which officers should carry them. Norment’s idea would have cost Chesterfield County between $800,000 to $900,000 for eight additional lawyers.
Bacon’s bottom line: I find myself baffled. How can this be a problem? The overwhelming majority of police encounters are uncontroversial. Sure, police departments should save and catalog the video in case it’s needed later. But how many cases warrant an examination of the video feed? And how many hours does it take to review a single tape?
I’m also bewildered why Chesterfield would need to hire eight new lawyers at an average compensation of $100,000 a year. Why does it take someone with a law degree to review police video and isolate the five or ten minutes of footage relevant to the case? Can’t you hire a couple of college kids for $15 an hour to do the grunt work and hand off the relevant footage to the prosecutor in charge of the case?
Really, how difficult can it be to download police video for storage in the cloud, tag it with the officer’s name, date, and time of the encounter, have a intern in the C.A.’s office fetch the file in the relatively rare instances in which it might be germane, snip footage of the encounter, and pass along a clip to the prosecutor?
From my vantage point, the controversy makes so little sense that there must be more to it than meets the eye. But perhaps state and local government just isn’t very good at handling certain tasks. Perhaps there’s a business opportunity for an enterprise to do the job for them at half the cost.There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 110182.