Video Cameras in Police Cars Might Not Be Funded

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Funding for illegal immigration enforcement in Prince William County was slashed almost in half last night when the Board of County Supervisors tentatively decided not to install cameras in county police cars.

In all, supervisors cut the proposed budget by $6.7 million. That amount brings the property tax rate to 97 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The change would amount to a 5 percent increase in the tax bill of the average homeowner.

Installing cameras and monitoring the footage would cost $3.1 million, which accounts for much of the $6.9 million in the coming year's budget for illegal immigration enforcement. Police Chief Charlie T. Deane had requested cameras to protect the county against allegations of racial profiling as officers check the residency status of criminal suspects who they think are in the country illegally.

County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said of the illegal immigration enforcement: "One of the best defenses we have if we get sued is the video footage from the cameras. This may be a short-term savings that turns into a long-term expense."

The cut is "contingent upon an acceptable recommendation from staff that would limit the county's potential liability," Chairman Corey A. Stewart said.

He proposed $21 million in budget cuts yesterday, delaying a planned vote by the board on the county's spending plan for the coming year.

Stewart's proposal caught some supervisors by surprise. The board was scheduled to mark up the $913 million budget yesterday, and supervisors usually offer spending cuts in advance so they can be discussed.

"I'm pleased the chairman came up with something," said Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). "I would rather have the proposal at the last minute in lieu of no proposal at all. But having a weekend to review it would have been helpful."

Stewart (R) said there is no county procedure for offering budget amendments. The board was planning to meet late into the night to consider the budget, and a final vote is scheduled for next week.

Stewart recommended that the board not provide funds for patrol car video cameras, which police requested to implement the county's illegal immigration policy. He also suggested reducing planned police and fire department staffing increases, eliminating the office on youth and forgoing a pay increase for supervisors.

Stewart also proposed trimming about 85 employee positions, which would cut $5 million from the budget, and suspending an incentive pay program for county employees, for an additional $4.1 million in savings.

Prince William is the last major jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to set its property tax rate. The county, like others in the region squeezed by declining real estate values and a slumping economy, plans to raise the rate.

The board initially set the tax rate at $1 for each $100 of assessed value. If adopted, it would increase the average tax bill for homeowners by 8 percent. Several supervisors have advocated a lower rate.

Several people spoke for and against full funding of the illegal immigration measures yesterday.

Greg Letiecq, president of Help Save Manassas, a group that works against illegal immigration and advocated for the resolution, encouraged supervisors to stay the course. "Instead of throwing our hands up and saying this is a federal issue, you've enacted the rule-of-law resolution that is improving our quality of life," he said.

Jean Reynolds of Woodbridge asked the board to keep her tax dollars for services such as public safety and schools instead of paying for the illegal immigration measures. "I don't know why Prince William County thinks it can do the job of the federal government," she said.

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