Today in Security - The Costs of Body Camera Programs

Today in Security: The Costs of Body Camera Programs

​​Back in April 2015, Security Management published a News and Trends column on the use of body cameras by law enforcement ("Body Cameras: Fashion or Function?). One security expert interviewed in the article noted that, whatever the benefits of body cameras, there is the issue of cost—not just of the camera itself, but the expense of storing all the video.

"The management of data is very expensive, especially if you have to maintain a chain of custody," the expert said.

Now, the issue of cost is in fact causing some jurisdictions to drop their body camera programs, according to a Washington Post article published this week. "Although the cameras were widely adopted, many [police] departments — especially in smaller jurisdictions — are now dropping or delaying their programs, finding it too expensive to store and manage the thousands of hours of footage," the article reads.

The Post article cites a few examples, including the case of East Dundee, a tiny village suburb of Chicago, which previously ordered body cameras for its 17 police officers.  But before a single incident could be recorded in the village, a new police chief, persuaded the Village Board last year to cancel the program. The chief argued that the $20,000 annual fee for the cameras and video storage couldn't be justified amid budget concerns.

In addition, the police department in Wahoo, Nebraska, ended its program in November after a new state law required video to be stored for at least 90 days, causing the annual price to spike to $15,000 — a big cost for a force of five officers. In Arlington County, Virginia, the police department decided not to use body cameras after a pilot project revealed an estimated annual cost of $300,000.

And city officials in Madison, Wisconsin, in November rejected a proposal to spend $104,000 on a body-camera pilot program. While cost was a primary concern, activists and city officials also worried that the videos might be turned over to federal immigration officials and used against undocumented immigrants in the community, according to the article.

"A call for transparency is not the same thing as accountability," an activist told the Madison Common Council. "If we as a community don't have the power to interpret the footage, if we as a community don't have the power to make a decision about the outcome of the footage, then it makes no difference how much footage that there actually is."

Most police departments that have ended body-camera programs are in smaller jurisdictions. Representatives from Axon, a body-camera manufacturer, told the newspaper that clients who canceled camera contracts all cited costs.

"The easy part is buying the body cameras and issuing them to the officers. They are not that expensive," said Jim Pasco, executive director at the National Fraternal Order of Police. "But storing all the data that they collect—that cost is extraordinary. The smaller the department, the tougher it tends to be for them."