Jul 10, 2023 - News

Richmond and Chesterfield create new police surveillance hubs

Illustration of a security camera topped with police car lights

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Two local police departments are establishing "real time crime centers," the latest trend in police surveillance tech.

What's happening: Chesterfield County may already have one (officials won't say), and Richmond Police are still in the process of setting one up.

How it works: Employees who staff real time crime centers can be equipped with a range of surveillance technologies — security cameras, license plate readers, facial recognition technology — with the aim of getting information immediately to officers as they respond to high-priority calls.

Why it matters: Local leaders hope the new capabilities will translate to a reduction in violent crime, while critics caution that expanded surveillance raises privacy concerns.

What they're saying: “Think of this as an air traffic control for officers in the field,” Mayor Levar Stoney said when he announced the plan earlier this year.

  • “Using cameras and other modern technology, real-time crime centers have the ability to maximize the efficiency and speed of investigations.”

Zoom in: Both Chesterfield and Richmond landed state grants to set up their real time crime centers.

  • Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz has refused to discuss the center or say whether it's operational yet, but documents connected to the county's $550,000 grant include line items for license plate readers and software that pulls together private and public surveillance camera feeds, per WTVR.
  • Katz said the department is striving for "surgical policing based on analytics and criminal intelligence to drive our operational strategies and resources," in a statement to Axios.

Meanwhile, Richmond received a $750,000 grant for the project, which is still in the works.

  • The police department has said it will also pull together surveillance feeds from around the city. The department has also recently invested in dozens of license plate readers placed around the city.

The other side: The plans have raised eyebrows among civil liberties groups like the ACLU of Virginia, which has challenged the recent reversal of laws that formerly barred police departments from using license plate readers and facial recognition technology.

  • "The ACLU vehemently opposes the proliferation of this technology — particularly without any regulations in place," said Shawn Weneta, a policy strategist at the organization.

What's next: "You should expect legislation to come up during the next General Assembly session to address this technology," he said.

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