VCU PD will begin wearing body cameras this semester

Matt Leonard
Online Content Editor

The VCU police department has invested in 25 body cameras, the chargers, the software and the license, for $23,333 total to further increase officer accountability. Photo by Tobi Oluwo.

The VCU Police Department will begin wearing body cameras after officers complete training for the new equipment during the third week of February.

The department began considering this option over a year ago, according to Police Chief John Venuti, who said this is an attempt to increase accountability and transparency within the department.

At last month’s State of the University address Venuti said many departments use cameras to decrease officer use of force and complaints against officers, but over the past five years VCU PD has seen a decrease in officer complaints without body cameras.

“The cameras help us capture what the officer sees and hears when he or she makes contact with someone and the video provides an unbiased account of an incident,” Venuti said.

After considering various camera models, the department made the final decision last fall to purchase 25 cameras at a cost of $23,333 for the first year. The cost will cover cameras, charging stations, and a user license for the video storage software.

The department has a five-year contract for the software; the cost will drop to $19,363 per year in following years for the software. The cost will be covered by the department’s budget.

The cameras will be worn by patrol officers and will be activated when they come in contact with someone.

Venuti said the storage software for videos will not allow the content to be edited, but does allow the department to protect the identity of people not involved in the incident who are on a recording.

“We will have the ability to blur out the faces of people who are not involved in an incident when the video is submitted to the court as evidence,” Venuti said. “The online storage system automatically tracks and monitors who accesses the video clips.”

Since the 2010-11 academic year, the VCU PD has seen an 88 percent decrease in officer uses of force and a 72 percent decrease in complaints against officers.

In 2010, VCU police officers used force 58 times and received 69 complaints. Those numbers dropped to 21 and 33 respectively by the 2013-14 academic year.

There has been a nationwide trend toward the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. After Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, he was not indicted by a grand jury. Critics said that if a camera had been present the shooting may never had happened.

A camera was present in another officer involved killing that received national attention, however.

When Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York police officer the episode was caught on camera. The footage portrays Garner continually repeating, “I can’t breathe,” which has since become a rallying cry for protests against police violence across the country. Despite the situtaion being caught on camera, the grand jury still decided against indicting that officer as well.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Patrick Smith, the CEO of Taser — a company that produces body cameras —  said the company is “feeling phenomenal,” fiscally speaking, in light of the post-Ferguson rush to equip officers with cameras.

“What everybody thought was crazy five years ago is now accepted as inevitable,” Smith said.

Venuti said the cameras will help to continue improving VCU PD’s relationship with the community.

“At VCU Police we stress that every single contact with the community matters,” Venuti said. “The cameras can do nothing but enhance our relationship with the community and enhance our dedication to that philosophy.”

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