VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) announced Thursday that it completed issuing Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) to all sworn officers.
VBPD said even though all officers now have access to a BWC, certain activities and positions will remain exempt from mandated use due to the nature of their assignment such as detectives or administrative positions that do not routinely interact with the public.
If those officers mentioned are assigned in an operational capacity or working an extension of police services detail in an off-duty capacity they will be required to utilize their assigned BWC.
The department released a video Thursday showing the training officers went through on how to use the device.
In the video, the trainer can be heard saying, “The only time you’re going to power it off is if you’re at a jail, you’re at a precinct or you’re on a personal break.”
The cameras will start recording two minutes before they’re turned on, and officers will be required to activate them on the way to a call rather than waiting until they get to the scene.
Officials added, "Department policy has also been amended to require the activation of BWC when officers are dispatched and begin responding to a call for service instead of at time of arrival. When not on a call for service, BWCs are powered on but not actively recording until manually activated; however, they are passively recording, and that passive buffering window has been increased from 30 seconds to the maximum permissible two minutes."
Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association President Brian Luciano supports the updated body camera policy.
“There are many situations on a daily basis, where the officer has to react, and the last thing you want the officer thinking of is, I need to start my body camera,” said Luciano. “They need to engage in the situation and not worry about the body camera.”
Luciano believes the new policy will offer more transparency and build a better relationship with the community.
“I think it’s also going to show the public what it is that we’re up against – the verbal and physical assault that we take on a daily basis,” he said.
The changes come after a city officer shot and killed 25-year-old Donovon Lynch at the Oceanfront in March following a string of shootings that police believe Lynch wasn’t involved in.
Police said the officer did not turn on his body cam and it wasn’t automatically activated when he pulled his gun from the holster, like it was designed to do.
The issues with the devices came to light following Lynch’s death.
“It’s shameful, frankly that that incident took place and there was no body camera footage,” said Gary McCollum, a family friend of the Lynchs and minister with Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference.
McCollum said they’ve been pushing for these changes for years.
“We advocated for the deployment of these cameras before they were deployed and we also suggested and asked to ensure there was a policy in place to make sure they were used in situations like what we saw the night Donovon Lynch was killed,” said McCollum. “We’re glad that it’s happening now but this is something that should have happened quite a while ago and if it had happened, maybe Donovon Lynch would still be alive today.”
According to Luciano, the officer who shot and killed Lynch did not have time to turn his camera on.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s no body camera footage, but the officer did not have the opportunity to activate his body camera at that time and we did not have the technology that we are moving towards,” said Luciano. “We’re trying to remedy that situation, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Luciano said while body cameras are vital in investigations, they don’t always show the full picture.
“Unfortunately, we need to understand that this is not going to always answer every question,” he said. “Regardless of how many body cameras were active there's always going to be things that are missed. There's always going to be things that the camera doesn't capture. It’s not a panacea to everyone's concerns and everyone's issues, and it won’t solve every question to a specific incident.”
The VBPD is still working to resolve the issue with the Signal Side Arm technology that automatically activate an officer’s BWC when their firearm is drawn from the holster. The VBPD has received a new holster design that is currently being tested and evaluated.
Earlier in May, VBPD originally announced changes to the policy and said they had four phases of the plan to roll out body cameras.
Captain William Zelms, Commanding Officer, Special Projects and Technology Bureau, discussed these points in the video below: