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Monday, December 8, 2014

Deciding to Use Body Worn Video

With the recent troubles around the country, many agencies are declaring their intent to purchase body worn video cameras for their officers. While this might quiet down some folks cries for transparency, the devil's always in the details.

Prices for good recorders range from $300 - $1500 per unit for the initial purchase. If the agency has 100 officers on patrol at any one time, do the math. Then, do you only equip patrol units, or do detectives and other police representatives need units? What about those who want a camera on every police employee? The point - each camera costs money to buy and deploy. That money has to come from somewhere. For agencies with a lot of "risk management problems," these cameras will help the agency save money initially. For those with good community relations - where will the money come from for the purchase?

Remember that technology has a life span. Thus, the tech will need to replaced/refreshed every 3 to 5 years. This means that the initial purchase price will likely be due every 3 to 5 years.

For every piece of police equipment, there's an associated maintenance cost. There's the actual work of repairing/replacing defective units and there's the fee that the manufacturer charges for "maintenance" - usually somewhere between 5% and 20% of the original purchase price - for the life of the program. This is where agencies usually skimp. This is why camera programs tend to have a three year life span - no money for maintenance. The sad fact is that there's always money somewhere to initiate a program - it looks good for the voters. No one ever got re-elected for paying for a maintenance program.

Every minute of recorded video has to be stored somewhere. That too has a cost. Some agencies have policies prohibiting the use of cloud services. These agencies will need to store the video locally. Some have questions about the ability to access evidence stored with could-based providers if the agency decides to change providers. Servers, discs, cloud storage - they all have a cost. The agency's retention policy + the amount of units in the field + the quality settings for the video will dictate the annual storage costs.

If the agency decides to skimp on recording quality, then the requests for "enhancement" will be increased. If the agency has forensic video analysts, their workload will increase significantly. The agency, facing backlogs, will either have to accept the backlogs or spend money on overtime and/or more staff.

Agencies will need to deal with requests for copies of the recordings from the public, internally, and from the courts. Again, this is not without cost - even for small agencies. Remember, staff and salary costs are recurring. Adding staff in tough economic times can be a tough sell.

But, as agencies rush to purchase equipment, there needs to be a rational policy behind the use of these recorders. When to record. What to record. Who gets cameras. Who doesn't. Recording quality. Storage policy. Retention policy. Release policy. As the above linked story from Tyler, Tx, illustrates, the City Council approved the purchase before a policy is in place. That might quiet the public, but it puts the police in a bind down the road. Without a policy, how does the agency know if the initial purchase is enough? What about allocating money for the other parts of the puzzle?

The final piece of the police side of this complex issue is a stable funding source. Agencies like Omaha (see above link) that choose to fund cameras with "asset forfeiture funds" may run into trouble if those funds run low. It's better to fund these types of programs from a regular budget item - but that might not be possible politically in many cities.

So, the bottom line will be - how much are the taxpayers willing to spend and what will they get for that "investment?" As with everything, you get what you pay for.

1 comment:

Scott Kuntz said...

On the point of storage, some agencies have to multiply their storage space and costs. The data, the data backup and the disaster recovery site backup all cost money too. Good post Jim.
Scott Kuntz