Body cameras are coming to the Fairfax County Police Department. The county board approved a pilot program on Tuesday to improve transparency and use-of-force investigations.
"This is a great step towards greater transparency for the community and the law enforcement profession," said Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler.
It was the absence of transparency after a fatal police shooting of unarmed Springfield man John Geer that prompted the action.
The 46-year-old was shot while he had his hands up in the doorway of his home. It took more than a year for the county to release the name of the police officer who shot him.
"The county stonewalled the releasing of the results of the case. They knew it was wrong. They did nothing about it for 17 months. It was a travesty, " said Jeff Stewart, who was Geer's best friend.
He witnessed the shooting on August 29, 2013. So did Geer's father, Don Geer, who finally threatened a lawsuit after receiving no information about his son's death for more than a year.
"It's an ongoing investigation we can't tell you anything. After 15 months? That's ridiculous," Don Geer said in frustration to WUSA9 in 2014.
The involvement of Sen. Charles Grassley and a judge finally pushed the county to release the officer's name.
Adam Torres was finally indicted. He pleaded guilty and served time behind bars.
WUSA9 asked Chief Roessler if body cameras would've made a difference in the Geer investigation.
"Well, that investigation was thorough. We put over 12,000 pages of it online for transparency. Clearly, I terminated the officer. The officer was indicted," said Roessler.
"They did have a thorough investigation. It's just nobody was made privy to that information for nearly 17 months," countered Stewart.
The lack of transparency led to the appointment of an ad hoc committee on police policies. One of the many recommendations from the committee was for police to wear body cameras.
Stewart was a member of that committee. He said body cams are a step in the right direction, but had some reservations.
"You can video it all day long. If you're not going to share the information, you know, for better or for worse, I'm sure 99 percent of the cases it will probably vindicate officers. But on those occasions where it doesn't, they have to be ready to share that information as well because people have a right to know," said Stewart.
The pilot program will be tested in two districts: Mason and Mount Vernon. Chief Roessler said only some of the officers will wear cameras and others won't in order to establish a control group to help ensure scientific study of the program.
The officers wearing the cameras will be required to turn them on before any law enforcement public encounter. The projected start-up cost for this pilot program for the county is $684,151 in Fiscal Year 2018.