The recent decision by Rogersville police to obtain body cameras and the steps taken by Springfield officials in that direction is causing budget concerns for Greene County.
The addition of body camera footage is going to add to the workload of the Greene County prosecutor’s office to a level where they will most likely need to add more staff and add hundreds of thousands to the prosecutor’s office budget.
“The Prosecutor’s Office will have to access and review footage as part of the charging process, disclose the footage to the defense, who will also have to store and review it, and often the rules of evidence will require editing or redaction of the footage to be used as court exhibits,” Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson told OI.
A 2019 study by the Commonwealth of Virginia showed that one additional prosecutor would be needed for every 50 body cameras deployed into the field. (The original survey in 2018 estimated one prosecutor for every 75 cameras.)
Using that estimate, if the Springfield police department were to deploy 240 cameras on their officers, the Greene County Prosecutor’s office would need a minimum of 4 to 5 additional prosecuting attorneys.
The lawyers would need to be a mix of entry-level assistant prosecuting attorneys and senior APAs because of the cases involved, also a discovery clerk would be needed for those attorneys.
“Depending upon the mix and the ratio of attorneys to body cameras my initial assessment is a cost between $352,000 and $533,000,” Patterson said.
As the County is facing a decrease in revenue because of the COVID-19 lockdown and the resulting decrease in the economy and area businesses, the County Commission is looking at how to deal with the possibility of the significantly increased costs for the prosecuting attorney’s office.
“There’s not money in the county budget to just hire 25 percent…more prosecutors,” Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon told OI.
“So what’s going to happen if we go out there and do something that’s not going to be sustainable long term,” Dixon said, “something where say the municipalities can afford the initial equipment but can’t afford the monitoring long term, the cost to us in the long term…and even with our decreased budget due to COVID in the short term…we don’t have the funds to just add that.”
Dixon said the end result would be decreased prosecutions on other crimes. He said that “something would have to give” to move the resources into the areas related to body cameras.
None of those involved with looking at the budget issues has an issue with body cameras themselves and recognizes the benefits of the cameras, their concerns solely base around how to pay for the ongoing expenses related to the cameras.
“Unless the voters want to pay for them in a way that’s long term,” Dixon said. “I just don’t see how it can be absorbed.”