The Augusta County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the 2023 tax rate April 12 at their regular meeting. The proposed budget includes an increase of one cent to the real estate tax to fund body and dashboard cameras for the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office and associated personnel.
Wayne District Supervisor Scott Seaton has been in support of body cameras for some time – but other supervisors, Seaton said, have slowed efforts to get the matter before the public and to secure funds.
“I was concerned as a board member and just as a resident of Augusta County that somebody was going to shoot somebody, and we would end up in national headlines,” Seaton said in an August 2022 interview with Augusta Free Press. “It’s not an incredibly expensive item on a budget. The cost comes down to budgeting less than one cent on property taxes per year.”
Seaton said that among the advantages of body cameras is evidence in court cases a perpetrator can be exonerated or a conviction may be improved based on what a camera captures, and a police officer can be exonerated of complaints.
“You can’t really deny what’s on the camera,” Seaton said.
Last Wednesday night, a number of Augusta County and Waynesboro residents shared their thoughts on the one-cent increase – and the designation of funds to go toward cameras for sheriff’s deputies.
“With the cost of the courthouse coming up next year … cameras is one that should go unfunded at this time,” said Danny Link. “Some argue that Augusta County taxes are lower than surrounding areas. So what? Well, this is something you should be proud of, and not something that you should use to raise our taxes, not an excuse to raise our taxes.”
Larry Powell said he doesn’t think cameras are the top priority for the department – and he thinks we have the best sheriff’s department in his lifetime.
“I think if you just be patient, and let the reassessed values make up instead of passing a one cent which seems menial, tax increase for one item makes no sense to me,” said Powell at the hearing.
Edward Long agreed.
“Our sheriff, who the Augusta County citizens do enthusiastically support, has told you his priorities, and as I recall, the first is to have sufficient manpower,” said Long. “And the second is to have an adequate communications and adequate infrastructure to adequately serve the citizens of the county.”
Long said he feels that the board is caving to pressure from Nexus Services, with corporate offices in Verona, which is facing charges of obstruction of justice and obtaining money by false pretense as well as conspiracy to commit a felony, and its allies.
“If indeed the board does pass this 1 percent tax, I’m astounded that the other members have sort of surrendered to that to the pressure,” Long said. “I do oppose the tax rate in order to buy body cams.”
Andrea Jackson, a Black combat veteran who favors the cameras, said that just because people support cameras doesn’t mean that they are against police or law enforcement, though she admits to being “scared and cautious” when she sees an Augusta County law enforcement vehicle.
Since 2020, and George Floyd’s murder, Jackson said, cameras are more important than ever.
“For the safety of everyone involved, there need to be cameras.”
More people joined Jackson in speaking in favor of body and dash cameras for the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office.
“I support the purchase of the body and dash cam, which has been going on for several years. And the sheriff has asked for it and has chosen the equipment that he wants to use,” said Chanda McGuffin. “And I appreciate you all for standing in the gap. And finally coming to this decision to actually get the body a dash cam for the safety of the community, the officers and the transparency for the community at large.
“I understand this one cent, and I’m going to tell you if one cent prevents a lawsuit, one cent saves a life, if one cent solves an issue, it’s not that much money,” she said.
Sophie Alberts, the only youth speaker, said it has been a long road to get the cameras in the proposed budget.
“This is something that we really need,” she said. “It’s something that will protect people. It is something that on the whole will be worth it. Because one cent is worth it to save lives. It’s worth it to keep everything clear and honest. It’s just worth it to protect the community to protect every individual here.”
Randall Wolf, who has put his name in the running for the South River open seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, said he supports the one cent rate increase.
“I think this is a really small price to pay to do a number of things that protects our deputies,” he said. “Body cameras work so many ways. They protect good officers. And they show bad officers when that’s needed.
“In some cases, it’s going to reduce the workloads I think of our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office by getting people that do make mistakes and do things illegally to simply cop a plea, because that footage is going to show them in a situation where they don’t want to go to court,” Wolf said. “So I think we’re actually over time going to save money by not having court cases move forward.”
Essen Daley said that evidence shows that body cameras will reduce citizen injuries and fatalities as well as reduce the use of force by police.
“Body cameras can give objective evidence about what happened in that moment with all that adrenaline and all that passion. And then, judges and juries can make their decisions based on hard evidence.
“In an age where there Is so much distrust and division, body cameras are a beautiful way to demonstrate trust and to rebuild trust between our very, very brave law enforcement,” he said.
Sarah Crenshaw said it was her first time before the Board of Supervisors.
“I’m also in support of the cameras. It protects our officers. But more importantly, it’s there to protect our citizens also,” she said. “And we have good, and we have bad citizens. We have good, and we have bad officers. And if there’s nothing to hide, if everything is above board, then you have nothing to worry about with the cameras.”
Sheriff Donald Smith said two years ago in a Facebook post after an officer-involved shooting that having body cameras is one of his strategic goals for the agency. However, he said, deputy wages, vehicles and protective gear have been his focus due to budget constraints.
“In-car cameras and body-worn cameras are great tools to aid in our effort to be transparent, but we have not yet been able to implement them,” he said. “I am confident that the vast majority of the citizens of Augusta County know that the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office work hard to keep them safe every day. Since becoming Sheriff in 2016, I and the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office have worked hard to build a positive relationship with the public we serve.
“’I’m sure that the community would support our desire to implement an in-car and body-worn camera solution for the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office. I strongly believe that the deputies need video evidence to protect them from false accusations that in our area are mainly driven by the media.”