Warren County deputies don body cameras

Warren County Sheriff's Office Deputy Charles Brogan models a body video camera, which is located below his radio microphone. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has joined the growing number of law enforcement agencies outfitting their members with body cameras.

The cameras are used to videotape interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public. Calls for police to use body cameras have grown as video recordings, some from citizens, some from police, have documented scattered incidents that cast doubt on or flat out contradicted the police version of events involving the use of force.

Members of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office have been following the debate over police-community relations and the accompanying calls for greater openness by law enforcement agencies in responding to complaints about excessive use of force.

Deputy Charles Brogan said the arrival of the cameras in mid-September was a response to the heightened concerns, and the realization that videotaping, whether done by police or by citizens, has become a common part of law enforcement in the 21st century.

“Nowadays you’re on video so much and on camera, there’s always somebody watching you,” Brogan said.

Warren County Sheriff's Office Deputy Charles Brogan holds one of the new body video cameras that patrol deputies are wearing in the field. Rich Cooley/Daily

Brogan’s supervisor, Lt. Charles Bockey, agreed that body cameras and other forms of technology are a big trend in law enforcement.

“It helps with the transparency that everybody talks about nowadays,” Bockey said.

The cameras, priced at about $449 per unit, are worn by deputies assigned to patrol, civil process and school duties.

They weigh only a few ounces and can record up to three hours before deputies have to return to headquarters and upload the video to a server.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office deployed the first of its 23 cameras into the field on Sept. 19. Bockey, the head of the patrol division, said the cameras have been well received by the rank and file.

A survey by the Police Executive Research Forum in July 2013, more than a year before a fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, led to widespread calls for more body cameras, found about 25 percent of 254 police agencies were already using them.

Video footage, while not necessarily definitive, can help settle conflicting accounts from deputies and members of the public at crime and accident scenes.

The Woodstock Police Department was the first area law enforcement agency to use body cameras in 2012. Shortly thereafter, video footage of a fatal police shooting of a Woodstock man helped Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley conclude that the use of force was justified.

The Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office has also outfitted its deputies with body cameras.

“It’s just one more piece of the puzzle,” Bockey said of body cameras. “It either dispels a complaint or proves a complaint.”

Bockey said video footage that is part of an ongoing court case or investigation is off limits to the public. Those seeking access to other video obtained through body cameras must obtain permission from Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron.

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