Pilot Body Worn Camera Program Approved to Launch Early 2018

Our department will be launching a pilot body worn camera program this coming spring, after unanimous approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this morning. This pilot program will be conducted with all operational uniformed patrol officers from two of our district stations; Mount Vernon and Mason. It will include 230 cameras and last for 3 months, with the option to extend it to 6 months.

This comes following the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission Final Report recommendations to outfit officers with body worn cameras. The pilot body worn camera program is designed to provide the Department with the opportunity to review police-community member encounters as they occur, as well as provide an additional degree of safety for our officers as they patrol the streets.

Cameras will be worn on the outside of the officer’s uniform or ballistic vest on a full-time basis to evaluate the technical merits of the software and equipment. The cameras that will be tested offer various features and mounts to capture the details of police-community member encounters without compromising the officer’s job tasks or safety. Prior to being issued the equipment, all officers will receive training.

Officers will be expected to activate the body worn camera during any law enforcement-public encounter related to a call for service, law enforcement action, subject stop, traffic stop, search or police service. The officer should start recording at their arrival/response, or as soon as it is practical and safe to do so, and leave it on for the duration of the incident. That includes transporting an individual to any detention facility. No law prohibits officers from recording citizens in public, as individuals in a public area have no expectation of privacy. The recording of any police contact with individuals in a private residence is also allowed, as long as the officers have legal authority to be in that location. If officers are in an area where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their home, individuals may decline to be recorded unless the recording is being made pursuant to an in-progress criminal investigation, arrest, or search of the location.

There are several circumstances and locations where our officers will not record, including when in courthouses and medical facilities. In both of those instances, the camera should only be turned on if use of force is anticipated or initiated. We will also not record if community members are reporting a crime and request anonymity, or if they are giving a statement in an alleged rape or sexual assault.

Axon has been selected to be the single point of contact for the camera device, software and storage. They have agreed to provide the pilot program at no charge to Fairfax County, but there will still be expenses. The projected start-up cost for this pilot program for the County is $684,151 in Fiscal Year 2018. The majority of implementation costs will fund the personnel needed to technically support the pilot program and help manage the additional digital evidence and records. Approximately $8,000 will be spent at each station to make modest enhancements to power and network access required for the pilot program. There will also be a recurring annual cost for data storage starting in 2021. The first 3 years of storage are covered as part of a Field Trial Agreement. After that there will be a recurring annual cost for data storage from the 90-day pilot of $124,000 beginning in Fiscal Year 2021. If the pilot period duration is increased, the cost also increases proportionately.

Fairfax County’s obligation to maintain the data created during the pilot program is not discretionary. The Library of Virginia is authorized by state code to enact regulations governing the retention and disposition of state and local public records, including digital video data.  Video related to most routine police activity is required to be retained for only a few years.  However, cases involving unsolved serious criminal offenses, allegations of police misconduct, critical incidents, etc. can require retention periods of up to 100 years. 

In addition to the technical evaluation of the equipment, we are partnering with researchers to gather and study data over the course of the pilot program. Richard R. Bennett Ph.D., Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology at American University will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the effects the pilot body worn camera program will have on use of force statistics, the number of community member complaints, changes in policing activities and the community members’ assessment of police legitimacy. The analysis is expected to cover statistics and community member feedback over a 270-day span in order to assess the impacts prior to, during, and following the pilot program window.

We acknowledge this is a significant milestone and our policy for the pilot body worn camera program was drafted with community stakeholders, including leaders of religious, civic and business organizations. There are several intricacies contained within the policy that address the personal privacy rights and constitutional safeguards of individuals while ultimately seeking to promote transparency and accountability in police-community member encounters. 

We are projecting the pilot to begin in about 100 days, likely sometime in March. This will allow us the time to onboard staff to implement program and make modest infrastructure improvements to the two district stations taking part in the pilot.

All requests for body worn camera footage should be referred to the Media Relations Bureau’s Virginia Freedom of Information (FOIA) Compliance Section (FCPDFOIA@fairfaxcounty.gov) for proper processing.