The Vienna Police Department in September will begin sending officers into the field with body-worn cameras.
Vienna Town Council members on Feb. 28 unanimously agreed to allow the police department to use $223,732 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to implement the camera program.
The town will ride a Sourcewell contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., which will provide all of the program’s equipment, as well as maintenance, warranty and storage. All of the department’s sworn officers will be issued a camera and be required to use it in accordance with the agency’s body-worn-camera policy.
Fairfax County police also use Axon body-worn cameras, and Vienna’s camera program will be modeled on that department’s, said Morris, a former county police officer who briefly led that department between permanent chiefs.
Morris said he would be returning to the Council soon with a proposal to switch the Vienna Police Department’s in-cruiser cameras from the current Panasonic equipment to gear made by Axon. Doing so would allow cruiser and body-worn cameras to interface, with the one also being activated if the other is turned on, he said.
The five-year contract will involve two full equipment replacements, Morris said. The vendor will deliver the cameras in September, and in the meantime, the chief said department leaders would formulate a standard operating procedure for officers. Department personnel will receive extensive training on when and how the cameras should be used, he said.
All 41 sworn officers, including the chief and other high-ranking department personnel, will be assigned cameras. While the number of extra cameras will be limited, the company has committed to prompt maintenance and overnight replacement of malfunctioning gear. Upper-echelon officers likely would lend their cameras to officers in the field, if necessary, the chief said.
While the cameras would not be used for ongoing surveillance, they would have the ability – like dash-cams on people’s vehicles or DVR units in their homes – to capture what had happened just recently, say within the last 30 seconds or two minutes, he said.
The Axon contract will allow unlimited “cloud” storage of video recordings, thus keeping costs manageable, Morris said. “It’s the only way we could do the project,” he added.
Council member Ed Somers said the body-worn cameras will benefit residents, visitors and officers, and he thanked Morris for actively pursuing their acquisition. Somers also pressed for adequate equipment backup to ensure officers’ encounters with the public are properly documented and not lost to equipment malfunction or other causes.
Vienna police have a well-established process for publicly releasing video footages, town officials said. The first consideration is whether such a release would harm an active prosecution or deny the accused the right to a fair trail, said Town Attorney Steven Briglia.
While videos would not be released in some sensitive cases, such as ones involving sexual assault and domestic violence, videos would be available under Freedom of Information Act requests, Briglia said.
“You can’t selectively release,” he said. “It’s either released or it’s not.”
Town officials by this summer will receive further guidance from the state regarding police videos, but in general, “we err on releasing the records,” Briglia said.