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Vienna Police seek to introduce body cameras with federal relief funds

The Vienna Police Department is seeking to introduce body-worn cameras like the pictured one used by Fairfax County police (via FCPD)

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) The Vienna Police Department plans to institute a body-worn camera program, a practice that has gone from rare to commonplace in the D.C. region just within the past half-decade.

Police will request the Vienna Town Council’s approval tonight (Monday) to use $223,732 in federal relief funds for a five-year program that would equip all 41 of its sworn officers with cameras, according to the agenda for the council’s meeting.

The department hopes to use money from the town’s $17.1 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation, half of which came last summer. The remaining $8.5 million is expected this June.

Congress passed the ARPA stimulus package in March 2021 to address the ongoing effects of the pandemic. The VPD believes body cameras would be eligible for funds as a COVID-19 public health expense, according to a request form submitted by Police Chief Jim Morris and signed by town staff.

“Although the Department currently has a successful In-Car Video program, there are situations and interactions that cannot be captured from the police vehicle,” Morris wrote. “A body worn camera program would allow for officers to better capture and preserve evidence as well as provide a level of protection and oversight for the officers and the community.”

If the funding is approved by the town council, the VPD would enter a five-year contract with the law enforcement technology provider Axon Enterprises.

In a quote issued on Jan. 21, the company estimated that Vienna’s proposed body camera program would cost a total of $213,078, or $42,093 per year. The expenses include the 41 cameras, storage costs, and other equipment, such as camera docks and mounts.

As recently as 2016, just a handful of Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies utilized body cameras, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments survey. In pursuing a program now, however, Vienna lags behind even small jurisdictions like the Town of Herndon and Fairfax City.

Fairfax County approved a program in 2019 and completed a second phase in February 2021. The county moved in 2020 to accelerate its rollout with the goal of introducing all 1,210 cameras by the end of fiscal year 2021, which came on June 30, 2021.

The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed to FFXnow that it finished implementing the third and final phase of its program in April 2021, adding 516 body-worn camera operators.

“This included our Sully, West Springfield and Fair Oaks District stations as well as Animal Protection Police Officers and our Crisis Intervention Team,” the FCPD said by email. “Our Special Weapons and Tactics team also were [issued] Body Worn Cameras in 2021.”

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