Henrico County police officers will begin wearing body-mounted cameras this fall.
County police hope to have the first 36 cameras in hand by Oct. 1, Police Chief Douglas A. Middleton told the county’s Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday meeting.
“It’s a huge asset to us in the investigation of cases and in the investigation of the complaints that come in as well,” Middleton told the supervisors.
Agencies that already use the cameras have seen sharp drops in complaints, he said.
According to Henrico police Capt. Linda Toney, the department began researching body cameras more than six months ago, well before recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where days of violent protests were set off by the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
The department aims to have a camera for each of the 400 or so uniformed officers in the county by Jan. 1, 2016, Middleton said. “Obviously, a lot of things can interfere with that, but that’s what I would like to have happen,” he told the board.
The cameras will cost $800 each.
“We’re going to use money that we took from drug dealers to pay for it,” Middleton told the supervisors.
While officers have tested various camera units, the first shipment of cameras will allow officers to figure out exactly how the department should store the data the devices record. Storage and other recurring costs will run about $96,000 per year, officials think. That money will be a recurring cost in the county’s budget.
The cameras can be worn a number of ways, including on sunglasses or the shoulder of a uniform.
Police demonstrated the technology to the board Tuesday night.
“That’s called a selfie,” Brookland District board member Richard W. Glover explained to his colleagues as they examined the device.
Shortly afterward, board Chairwoman Patricia S. O’Bannon accidentally pressed a button that caused the recording unit to stop displaying the camera feed, and the demonstration was temporarily paused while officers corrected the problem.
The use of cameras among Richmond-area police departments varies greatly.
The Ashland Police Department recently equipped all of its patrol officers with body cameras, for example, while the Chesterfield County Police Department does not use dashboard cameras or body cameras, according to representatives for those agencies.
Richmond police also do not have body cameras, but some of the police cruisers have dashboard cameras, according to a representative.
The traffic division for the Petersburg Bureau of Police uses dashboard cameras.
Petersburg police had also purchased 50 body cameras for officers and supporting technology in 2011 for about $32,000, according to spokeswoman Esther Hyatt. And while those cameras have been used some, Hyatt said, they have been “riddled with problems related to” video storage.
The department is considering buying additional cameras for officers to wear on their uniforms, Hyatt said, adding that storing many hours of video footage on a daily basis is one of the trickiest parts of using body cameras.
A representative for the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached Tuesday evening.
Also Tuesday, Henrico police announced a plan to implement fair and impartial policing training for all 613 sworn officers.
Middleton, the county police chief, told the supervisors that Henrico police first started investigating the training last fall.
“Fair and impartial behavior is one of the hallmarks of policing in a democratic society,” Middleton said.
The police training will be undertaken in conjunction with Richmond’s police force, he said. It aims to teach police how to identify their own biases, including implicit biases.
“Bias is a normal human attribute,” Middleton said. “Even well-intentioned people have biases.”
Middleton said he wants the training even though he believes his department already does a good job of treating the people with whom it interacts fairly. For example, he said, the man who climbed a track fence while shirtless at last weekend’s NASCAR race complimented the police officers’ behavior after his arrest.
He said his standard has been that the people with whom police interact should receive the same experience that police officers would want for themselves or family members were the positions reversed.
The training will begin in early December. Command staff officers and trainers will receive instruction. Those trainers will then help to train the rest of the officers.
“I am really excited and enthused,” said board Vice Chairman Frank J. Thornton, who represents the Fairfield District.
He added: “As Henrico County is becoming more urbanized, this is the way to go.”
Richmond-area police officials insist their departments are not becoming militarized but say they need to acquire advanced, specialized weapons to keep pace with what they may encounter on the streets.