Pilot body camera program for Fairfax Co. police yields mixed results

July 9, 2019

FCPD (Photo via Fairfax County Police Department)

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The results of an analysis on Fairfax County’s pilot body-worn camera program are in. Researchers at American University found that the six-month pilot project could have limited results in enhancing policy-community relations, increasing police legitimacy and accountability.

In a 119-page report that uses survey data from residents and police officers, researchers found that people had “modest expectations” about the necessity and benefit of body-worn cameras.

Less than half of survey respondents and interviewees noted that the devices would reduce complaints against officers, improve legitimacy or increase police accountability.

Police officers also noted that it was unlikely that the devices would change their behavior, or how community members responded to the police department.

“If the decision is not to deploy them, the high regard for the department will lead nearly everyone to conclude that it was the right decision for all,” the report states.

Researchers did not find any statistically significant changes in officer behavior and performance once the devices were deployed. They also found that respondents were unconvinced that the cameras would lessen the use of force by police.

The pilot program went into effect in March last year after Fairfax County police Chief Edwin Roessler and a police commission suggested the idea. Last year, 191 cameras were deployed at the Mason, Mount Vernon and Reston District Station, yielding more than 12,000 hours of video.

The police department found that judges, clerks of the courts and staff from the office of the public defendant generally supported the program.

If the program is implemented, the county would deploy 1,210 body-worn cameras to all operational police officers over five years. The Reston, Mason and Mt. Vernon district stations would be the first to get the cameras.

The program could cost nearly $30 million over a five-year contract period. The county would have to hire staff to manage the technical aspects of the equipment, improve station infrastructure and ensure public records laws were being followed.

Additionally, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney would need nearly $3.1 million for 23 positions to help review the footage, roughly $773,000 to help the court system use the videos generated by the cameras in the courtrooms, and $150,000 to boost storage capacity to capture video evidence.

The county still has to mull several issues:

  • The impact of the devices on prosecutors, public defenders and the court system is entirely unclear
  • The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office cannot accommodate planned growth
  • Whether or not cameras should be given to School Resources Officers
  • Training requirements for the defense bar
  • The possibility that future contract costs could increase

The report will be presented to the county’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Photo via FCPD

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