Body cameras take a hit in budget

Shenandoah County law enforcement officials have praised body cameras since their introduction three years ago, but the devices are not faring well so far in the budgeting process for next fiscal year.

The budget submitted by County Administrator Mary Beth Price omitted a request by Sheriff Timothy C. Carter for nine additional body cameras and maintenance, licensing and storage of data pertaining to existing cameras.

The additional cameras, which cost $399 each, were to be used by Sheriff’s Office personnel involved in animal control and Circuit Court services such as transport of prisoners to and from the courtroom.

Body cameras have received heavy national media attention in the aftermath of several controversial incidents involving use of deadly force by police. The American Civil Liberties Union has given the cameras a conditional endorsement while calling for adequate safeguards to maintain the privacy of individuals videotaped during encounters with law enforcement.

The cameras are already widely used by Sheriff’s Office deputies and Woodstock police officers. Carter said he wants cameras to provide coverage in areas of the courthouse where there are no cameras to tape interactions between deputies and those in custody. He also wants two cameras for animal control officers, bringing the total budget request for new cameras to $3,600.

The cost of licensing, maintenance and video storage associated with the 31 existing cameras is listed at $14,508 in Carter’s budget request.

The cameras are valuable in gathering courtroom-ready evidence of encounters between deputies, suspects, crime victims and witnesses, Carter said. They can also provide clarity when deputies and civilians have conflicting versions of events they witnessed.

“I can say we’ve been pleased having the capability to record interactions, predominantly from an evidentiary standpoint,” Carter said. “But I think it also protects the officer civilly, it protects the county civilly, and it even protects the public from officers that may not be doing something properly.

“Our society is expecting more with regard to accountability by having the means to show real-world interaction.”

Price said she did not dispute the value of body cameras, but questioned the method of financing. She said the Sheriff’s Office initially acquired the cameras with money obtained from asset forfeitures, a fund created from property and currency seized from enterprises linked to criminal activity.

Price said she wants the cameras, new and existing, to continue to be supported by sources of funding outside the county budget.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com