Sophia Belletti, Staff writer
The Richmond Police Department will equip 40 officers with body cameras by Feb. 14 as part of a pilot program the to “defuse potentially dangerous situations and improve accountability.”
The city acquired the body cameras in a $340,000 contract. The first 20 cameras were issued to officers on Feb. 2 and the remaining 20 will be handed out this week. The department’s goal is to have 200 cameras deployed by May.
The cameras will be worn on glasses, the lapel or mounted on the chest.
Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said he believes in transparency and the body worn cameras will help with that.
“I think they (body cameras) are important,” Durham said. “The cameras benefit society. People want the truth, people want to know now.”
Richmond mayor Dwight Jones said he hopes they will give the City of Richmond an edge in police accountability.
“We are all aware of the discussions that have been taking place around the country about police brutality and excessive force. And we’re also aware of challenges that many cities have faced,” Jones told the Times-Dispatch.
Durham said equipping officers with the cameras will give police a better record of what happens during an incident, whether it’s a traffic stop or a violent confrontation. He said this will make the department’s work more transparent and it can hold its officers accountable.
“I’m so excited and my officers are excited we’re about to deploy these cameras,” Durham said. “We get to tell outside of the story and that’s so important.”
Durham said officers must tell a citizen they are recording, a measure the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made sure was included in the new policy. An ACLU report states an officer can record citizens if they are in public. However, if an officer enters a person’s home, or private property, the ACLU report said a person can ask the officer to stop filming.
Durham said the cameras will roll continuously once an officer is dispatched to a call. At the end of each officer’s shift, the video will be uploaded and held for 90 days.
The only exception to this is if the video is considered part of evidence, in which case it is held until the judicial process is over. During that 90 day period, Durham said citizens can request to see the footage.
“If there is a complaint, the complainant can come down right then and there and we will sit down and review the video,” Durham said.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton praised Richmond for implementing the new policy in a statement on Feb. 4.
“I was heartened to see Richmond put a pilot program into action this week to equip police officers with body cameras, which will improve transparency and help strengthen trust between law enforcement and the local community,” Clinton said.
Clinton said she would work to implement such policies nationwide were she elected president.
“Body cameras are by no means a panacea for the challenges we face in our criminal justice system, but they will help to increase accountability and transparency on both sides of the lens,” Clinton said.
The VCU Police Department was the first police unit in the Richmond metropolitan area to require officers to wear body cameras when it made the addition in Jan. 2015. For many precincts, body cameras are intended to reduce officer force and complaints on officers, but that wasn’t the case for the VCU PD.
Prior to the implementation of body cameras, the VCU PD had already reduced use of force by 81 percent.
“We didn’t (implement body cameras) to reduce force because we already did it,” Venuti said. “We didn’t do it to reduce complaints because we already did that. We did it to increase the level of transparency in the VCU community.”
In the 2009-10 academic year, the department had 74 incidents of force used by an officer; in 2014, there were 14. Complaints were reduced by more than 60 percent over the last five years.
Venuti said he agrees with Durham that body cameras benefit everyone, and it’s been a very good tool and makes the complaint process very simple.
“If we have an incident and we don’t have a body camera or recording we have the police officer’s perspective the person’s perspective,” Venuti said. “It gives us a completely unbiased version of what happened and that’s really powerful.
Staff Writer, Sophia Belletti
Sophia is a sophomore print/online journalism major with a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter, covering soccer, basketball and baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn