A committee is scheduled to consider what to do about funding commonwealth’s attorneys for reviewing body camera footage from law enforcement officials.
The recently-passed state budget contains that language, Chesterfield County officials say.
A committee that is to be created from representatives from the state Supreme Court, state Department of Criminal Justice Services, commonwealth’s attorneys, local governments and others is charged with making a recommendation to the state House Appropriations and Senate Finance committee chairs by Dec. 1.
Mary Ann Curtin, Chesterfield’s legislative liaison, said she and Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, worked on the language that was adopted in the final budget. That language was not included in the House budget, but made its way into the final product, Curtin said. Ingram is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, who along with Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, was instrumental in the adoption of Medicaid expansion in the final 2017-2018 Fiscal Year budget. House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said adding the language to the final budget was a joint effort.
Hanger said there was no consensus on the funding issue among commonwealth’s attorneys and local governments. “It’s probably better to take a good look at it from all angles,” he said, adding that state legislators will consider the issue during the 2019 legislative session.
The commonwealth’s attorney funding issue was brought to light when Chesterfield’s Commonwealth’s Attorney William Davenport sent a letter to Chief General District Court Judge Pamela O’Berry earlier this year and noted that his office would stop prosecuting most misdemeanors as of May 1. Davenport said his office had not received funding to review body cameras following the county’s buying them for Chesterfield police last year. (Police officers are now responsible for prosecuting misdemeanors not handled by commonwealth’s attorneys.)
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, added an amendment to the state Senate’s budget bill that would require localities to hire one entry-level assistant county attorney for every 50 body cameras worn by police, but that language did not make it into the final budget. Norment’s proposal would have cost Chesterfield some $800,000 or so per year to cover review of body cameras worn by some 400 police officers.
County supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle called the 1-50 attorney/body camera ratio “an arbitrary number.”
“We were very pleased that it be studied before a costly mandate is imposed on the localities,” she said.
Jaeckle – who did not think Norment’s amendment would pass – wants more funding from the state, noting that the state only funds 18 1/2 of the 28 commonwealth’s attorneys in Chesterfield. The state underfunds the salaries of commonwealth’s attorneys in other localities and overfunds others, she said, noting that some get 100 percent.
“We are working with the [state] Compensation Board and state legislators to bring funding closer to the recommended staffing levels … and more parity among localities,” she said.
Although she originally supported Norment’s amendment, state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, said she believes the budget language is a “good compromise.”
Chase said the state Compensation Board has been underfunding the Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney’s office for about a decade, and added that the state is only supposed to fund localities for prosecution of felonies.
“Studies have shown body cameras are good for public safety,” she said. “It protects our police officers and our community at large.”
Jaeckle had asked Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey Katz to review how long body cameras will be turned on. Last week, Katz said they will be on about 100 percent of the time while police are interacting with the public.
Chesterfield Deputy Commonwealth Attorney John Childrey said he had no comment about the body camera review committee.