The Prince William County Police Department is scheduled to deploy body-worn cameras by this fall, according to Prince William Police Chief Steve Hudson.
Hudson recently briefed the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on the results of a feasibility study, authorized by the board in 2013, that looked at how a body-worn camera program might be implemented.
Hudson said the study considered retention of video files, privacy and protection concerns for victims and witnesses, the release of files to prosecutors and defense attorneys, and legislative and policy changes.
Studies from across the country show that technology advances faster than laws and policies, Hudson told the board. "The development of policies and legislation is quickly outpaced by technology; and frequently, these practices have been put in place without really properly vetting the policy developments."
As part of the study, the Police Department held meetings with internal stakeholders, which included deputy county executives, the county IT and finance departments, representatives from the county attorney's office and the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. This group looked at ways to apply the program and was actively involved during the policy development, Hudson said.
The department has also contacted external stakeholders, to include but not limited to: neighborhood and business associations, human/civil rights organizations, faith-based organizations, news and media outlets, and educational institutions and is awaiting feedback on body-worn cameras and related equipment.
The department also reviewed policies from other jurisdictions, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Police Executive Research Forum, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. According to Hudson, jurisdictions reported that staffing and technology needs were initially underestimated, requiring program adjustments or allocation of additional resources.
Virginia law requires that prosecutors turn over evidence to the defense. That evidence would include files gathered by body-worn cameras. Protecting witnesses and victims would require redacting or obscuring attributes that could identify them, Hudson said. "If there is any release of such a file, we have to be careful to protect victim and witness personal identifiable information," Hudson said.
Going through all of the video files collected by the body-worn cameras to take steps to protect the innocent will be a massive job. Adding video files to all of the already extensive prosecution files will be "cumbersome," Hudson said. "In many cases, multiple video files for review by the prosecutors … becomes an extensive, and in some cases, a burdensome process."
This spring, the police department will work with the courts to install video viewing equipment. At the same time, the department will open the bidding process to purchase body-worn cameras and related equipment. Evaluation and pilot testing is scheduled to begin early this summer. Contract negotiations should take place in late summer and early fall, followed by the awarding of a contract and system implementation, Hudson said.
Body-worn cameras should lead to better policing, Hudson said. "Overall, the purpose is to try to increase accountability and transparency and improve documentation of evidentiary gathering."