Police cameras focus of talks

Louisa County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jordan Alvis wears a camera mounted to his collar in a 2015 file photo. 

With every encounter with a citizen, Louisa Town Police officers are required to turn on their body camera. That means every trip to the gas station, every traffic stop and every time they respond to service calls in the community, their cameras should be on and recording. 

That’s just one of the ways local law enforcement officers are providing a “sense of accountability and clarity,” said Police Chief Tom Leary. 

Louisa County Sheriff Donald Lowe echoes the same sentiment.

“Bodycams are an important part of accountability and public trust,” he said. “Our goal has always been to make respect for all citizens a central facet of every interaction, and bodycams lend credence to that.”

Working together with local leaders, Leary, Lowe and others have been meeting regularly to discuss bodycams, policing policies and inclusion practices since June as part of the Louisa Community Strong Committee. 

The committee is comprised of representatives from the NAACP, Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, Louisa Town Police, Louisa County Public Schools, members of the faith-based community and others. 

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors formed the committee in response to protests across the United States after a man in Minnesota died while pinned to ground by a police officer. The incident was captured on video and viewed across the country. 

“As we address important concerns, this community can be proud that [we] are working together in the right ways for the betterment of all people,” said Greg Jones, Louisa NAACP president and committee chairman. 

One of the first things the committee would like to tackle is purchasing more bodycams for the sheriff’s office. Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District), who also serves on the committee, is tasked with carrying the committee’s recommendation for more cameras to the board for approval. 

Currently, only one-third of the county’s officers have bodycams, all of which were donated by Dominion Energy in 2015. Lowe would like to buy more. 

“We are striving to have every uniformed officer in the department issued a body camera, and currently have requested 55 more,” he said. “The cost of body cameras is low. The true cost of having body cameras comes in the storage of video footage and the manpower which handles the reviewing of footage.”

While bodycams are beneficial to law enforcement and the community for many reasons, they are not foolproof. In rare instances, video is not captured because of mechanical issues with the device or because the officer may forget to start recording. Bodycams often don’t capture what happens leading up to an event, so they will never replace the investigative work by police officers to discover additional facts around a situation, said Leary. 

Even so, having the ability to record and review video footage has proven to be invaluable across the U.S.

A new state law requires localities to adopt and establish a written policy for bodycams that is in line with the model policy developed by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. The bill also requires police departments to make the policy available for public comment and review before adoption. 

Lowe and Leary are conducting a thorough review of existing policies and procedures to determine which ones need improving, including use of force and other protocols. 

In light of recent nationwide events, the committee shared that the “chokehold” technique is prohibited by county police officers and has been for many years.

Leary, who served 45 years in uniform in Henrico County, would like to see town policing practices standardized. 

“In these times, standards are important for police agencies,” said Leary. “[Standards] give you a compass to go by when doing your job [as an officer] and when leading a department.”

Currently, his officers are not held to any state or national standards. He’s hoping to change that. 

As an assessor and team leader for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Leary travels nationwide to evaluate other agencies and give “honest feedback from an unbiased source about [the other agency’s] policies, procedures and performance. He is working to bring some of the best practices he’s learned while serving in these roles to the town police department. 

“I have a good staff and a good town to work for. I feel fully supported in our efforts to ensure safety,” said Leary.

Since taking office in January, the chief has hired two female officers and promoted a third to sergeant. He’s currently looking to hire two more officers.

According to Leary, hiring recruits at a smaller agency such as the town police department is “tricky” because they don’t have the resources or time to send untrained officers to a police academy, so they look for candidates already certified through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

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