VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach deputies still don’t have body cameras when they assist police at special events and other busy weekends at the Oceanfront, but the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office is hoping to speed up the procurement process.
Cameras have been requested in the fiscal year 2024 budget, but as it stands that money wouldn’t be available until July 2023. The sheriff’s office instead wants funding available immediately, as big events such as Something in the Water and the inaugural BEACH It! festival are just around the corner. The current policy has deputies teamed up one-on-one with police officers, who are equipped with cameras.
“We need transparency, accountability and protection for our staff,” said Undersheriff Brian Struzzieri in a presentation to the council on Tuesday.
The sheriff’s office is requesting a phased-in approach for the cameras, with an initial 220 being procured “immediately” through the fiscal year 2023 budget.
Those first 220 would be for more public-facing deputies. For Something in the Water, for example, there will be just over 100 deputies a day helping to assist police, Struzzieri says.
280 additional cameras will then be purchased for the rest of the sworn law enforcement within the sheriff’s office, for a total of 500 cameras. There are currently 441 sworn law enforcement personnel in the sheriff’s office, and the additional cameras would be used as a backup.
The sheriff’s office is requesting the same Axon cameras already in use by VBPD. The “Officer Safety Program 7+ Premium” package would also include Tasers, a less-lethal weapon that deputies currently don’t have.
“So if we are to do this it probably makes more sense to give [deputies] less-lethal options if the situation dictates or necessitates it,” said City Manager Patrick Duhaney.
The cost for the sheriff’s office’s preferred option will start at $640,123 for the 220 cameras for the fiscal year 2022-2023, and eventually, have an overall recurring cost of about $1.75 million a year.
With the additional body cameras, more staff at the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office may be required to review footage, Duhaney says, but that’s still unclear at the moment. Duhaney added that funding is available currently to meet the sheriff’s office’s request.
Council would have to vote to approve the expedited purchase at their March 21 meeting, Duhaney says. If approved, the cameras could then be quickly implemented, the sheriff’s office says, as they’ve already been training with a limited supply of gear through a pilot program.
“We’ve been doing some demos,” said Councilman Rocky Holcomb, who also serves as a chief deputy. “We’ve been anticipating this coming, because we don’t feel like we can allow law enforcement officers to go into the community without this piece of forensic evidence. It’s very important. It’s just as important to me as the Independent Citizen Review Board (ICRB), is making sure we have this video so everyone can see what’s going on.”
Sheriff’s deputies are still notably not accountable under independent citizen review boards in Virginia, something the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association unanimously opposed. That issue and the fact that deputies don’t have body cameras came up at last month’s council meeting, when the council approved changes, at least as a formality, to the city code regarding policing authority for deputies.
Any ICRB changes would have to be made in Richmond, but in the meantime, body cameras do add a layer of accountability.
“And I can promise you this, if you have a body-worn camera on and you’re a bad actor, I hope it shows you’re a bad actor and we can get you out of our ranks,” Holcomb said.