Body-worn Cameras

Camera Concerns: the Impact of Body-worn Cameras on Prosecutors

Police-worn body cameras provide a firsthand account of crimes, hold officers responsible, and boost community confidence in the legal system.

The time required to view that video is putting a strain on prosecutor’s offices across the state, according to Colin Stolle, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Virginia Beach.

He claims that getting ready for one case used to take up to an hour before the advent of body cameras. It could take up to five hours now.

“Everyone believes that all you have to do is watch this brief excerpt or that brief excerpt; while they may be what makes TV, this is not the best way to prepare for your case. There have been DUI stops that have produced 18 hours of body camera footage,” said Stolle.

All of the sworn members of the Virginia Beach Police Department have been wearing body cameras for more than a year.

Any criminal case requires prosecutors to review body camera footage.
The same is true for private counsel, public defenders, and defense lawyers.

“Last year alone, Virginia Beach police sent to my office over 21,000 hours of body camera footage we had to watch,” said Stolle. “Don’t get me wrong, I think body cameras are a good idea, but it can occasionally feel overwhelming. I believe that law enforcement officials’ wearing body cameras gives the public peace of mind.”

“Transparency and the knowledge that their officers are operating ethically cannot be bought. The process does, however, also have other effects.”

The pattern of court case adjournments, according to Stolle’s office, has already been identified. He claims he is not required to prosecute misdemeanors, only felonies, in the event that funding is not provided quickly enough to handle the increased workload.

“Then I have to start making some tough decision as to whether I have a prosecutor in DUI cases, if I have a prosecutor in domestic violence cases,” Stolle stated.

In an effort to deal with it, Stolle claims that the city has provided his office with additional attorneys and staff; however, this is merely insufficient.

“In order to deal with body cameras, a locality must plan ahead and fund the higher level offices. We have lost multiple staff members over the last couple of years, we have lost multiple attorneys all because of the pressures due to the body camera footage,” explained Stolle.

According to Stolle, if localities use body cameras, the state budget currently calls for funding. To help relieve some of the pressures, there would be one new prosecutor for every 75 body cameras.

That is only a band-aid, he claims.

A time study by the National Center of State Courts is currently being conducted by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Association with funding provided by the General Assembly via the Virginia Compensation Board.

Viewing the body-worn cameras is a component of that time study. On schedule to be released in March is the report.

Stolle believes that by presenting the findings to the general assembly and outlining which offices are struggling, they will eventually be granted the necessary funding.

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