A body camera pilot program involving three Fairfax County police stations – Mason, Mount Vernon, and Reston – will be phased in starting this Monday, with full implementation expected by March 13.
A total of 230 cameras will be distributed to patrol officers in the three stations. Those stations were selected, the FCPD states, “due to the diversity of the communities and the varying types of calls for service and incidents resulting in the use of force.”
|FDPC Chief Edwin Roessler (left) speaks at a press briefing on body cameras.|
The policy for the body-worn camera pilot program was drafted with community stakeholders, including leaders of special interest, civic, and business organizations, he said, with the goal of balancing citizens’ privacy rights with the need to have accountability and transparency in police-citizen interactions.
If an officer is called to a home and the occupant asks not to be recorded, the officer will turn off the camera, said Capt. Chantel Cochrane, commander of the Fair Oaks Police District, who headed the policy development effort. If the situation changes, however, the officer could start recording.
Cochrane gave an example of a service call in response to a domestic dispute in a private home. If those involved agree to let the officers inside and there’s only arguing going on, the officer would turn off the camera if asked to. But if it escalates into violence, the officer would start recording.
School resource officers (SROs) will not wear body cameras, Roessler said. But if there is a call for service at a school or an event on school grounds and a regular patrol officer shows up wearing a camera, the incident will be recorded.
Not every officer will be issued a camera. There will be a control group in each station so a research team from American University will be able compare data from the officers wearing cameras to those without body cams.
The researchers will look at how police officers feel about how the cameras affect their day-to-day job and their interactions with the public, said a representative from AU. They will also look at citizens’ perceptions and whether the cameras result in more or less use-of-force incidents.
The study will help FCPD “understand whether body-worn cameras make a difference for our community and police officers,” Roessler said. If the pilot study finds the cameras are effective, the Board of Supervisors will determine next fall whether they should be adopted for all police stations.
Noting that FCPD officers have used in-car video systems for a decade or so, Roessler said, “Cameras provide only one point of view. They do not solve everything.” The benefit of body cams is “they build accountability and trust.”
FCPD selected body cameras manufactured by Axon. They are just five ounces, clip on to the front of an officer’s uniform, and beep when turned on, said Maj. Christian Quinn, who chaired a camera selection advisory committee.
The camera rolls back to record 30 seconds of video before it’s activated. That is useful if an officer is taken by surprise and doesn’t start recording in time. At the end of a shift, the officer would take off the camera and insert it into a docking station where the recording is uploaded while the device recharges.
State law requires recordings to be kept for a minimum of 60 days and much longer under certain circumstances.
Recordings will be released to the public “when the video is no longer needed for an investigation” and when they “no longer have evidentiary value,” Roessler said. In the case of an officer-involved shooting, the determination of when a video will be released will be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the status of the investigation.
Videos of people having a mental health episode – when they are taken to a treatment facility – will not be released to the public, he said.
“In today’s environment, when police are under attack, police are welcoming this,” Roessler said.