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Chesapeake police camera use up, complaints drop

CHESAPEAKE (AP) Chesapeake has seen a decline in complaints against police since it expanded the use of body cameras.

Statistics released by the Chesapeake Police Department show that that there were 51 complaints in 2013, compared to 81 complaints in 2012. The number of complaints upheld declined from 24 in 2012 to 19 in 2013, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

Two categories of complaints increased during the period. Racial-profiling complaints rose from five to 11, and procedural complaints increased from three to 14.

Police began using about 90 body cameras in 2008. In the past two years, the number has more than doubled to 215.

The cameras are small enough to attach to a collar, shoulder or eyeglasses. Chesapeake police cars no longer carry dashboard cameras.

“It’s not an all-seeing eye, but it’s close,” Police Chief Kelvin Wright told the newspaper, explaining his early support for the cameras. “It is an independent viewpoint.”

Wright said he believes that the cameras will become the industry standard.

A drawback of the cameras is the work that they create. Police department civilian support staff copies the videos onto compact discs. Videos are then reviewed by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

In 2013, the police department released 5,127 body camera videos to prosecutors in response to 1,245 requests

“It’s a lot of work,” Wright said.

Wright has asked the City Council to approve the creation of a video evidence coordinator position to help meet the demand for the videos.

“Almost every case has a video now,” Deputy Public Defender A. Robinson Winn told the newspaper. “And you have to watch them all. It’s very time-consuming.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Parr said her prosecutors usually end up having to watch the videos “in the afternoon, at night or on the weekends.”

The courthouse does not have computers for jurors to watch videos during their deliberations. Parr said she acquired two computers from the city for jurors but that number is not always sufficient.

The Newport News Police Department also has adopted police body cameras on a large scale.

“The officers like having the cameras because it helps them in court,” Detective Melissa Clemens said;.

Officer James Cason Jr., a spokesman for Virginia Beach police, said his department has several concerns with the cameras, including cost, durability and privacy.

Cason also said the courts and public might look negatively upon the department if “an officer forgets to turn on the device and is involved in an incident.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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