Apr 12, 2023 - News

Richmond police promise to release video in fatal shootings

Illustration of a magnifying glass shaped like a badge.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Richmond police are promising a new era of transparency, with a few potentially significant caveats.

What’s happening: The department says it will begin releasing body camera and surveillance footage capturing any fatal police shootings within two weeks of the incident, per Interim Police Chief Rick Edwards.

  • In a news release, department spokesperson Tracy Walker called it part of Edwards' "commitment to rebuilding trust and nurturing legitimacy through transparency."

Why it matters: Depending on how it's implemented, the new policy could be a significant departure from current police practices in Virginia.

  • Body camera footage is exempt from mandatory disclosure under public records laws. In practice, departments have only released it voluntarily in cases that reflect well on officers.

But, but, but: The department is leaving itself with plenty of wiggle room, writing that it reserves the right to withhold video if Edwards determines "a delay is needed to address investigative, prosecutorial, or privacy concerns."

What they’re saying: Betty Layne DesPortes, a longtime local defense attorney, said it remains to be seen whether the announcement results in any practical change.

  • "So, the policy is to release it unless the chief decides not to release it," she told Axios. "If one were cynical, you could view the policy as 'release it if it makes us look good.'"

Between the lines: Edwards' announcement comes after a bruising few years for the department, which was forced to apologize for tear gassing peaceful protests in 2020 and, more recently, made headlines for discredited claims about thwarting a mass shooting.

Of note: Edwards announced last week he has applied to serve in the role on a permanent basis.

What’s next: RPD says it will release the first body camera footage under the new policy this afternoon in the case of a fatal police shooting in north Richmond late last month.

  • Surveillance footage of the incident was already published this week by WRIC, which reported that the video shows the man killed in the encounter had fired on officers first.

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