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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Calculating the cost of redacting police body worn video

There's been an interesting back and forth over the release of body camera video and the cost of redaction happening in Washington DC. As someone who teaches and performs redactions, I've been following it with some interest.

Here's the source document that I'll be referencing from DC Transparency Watch.

I first got wind of this from a tweet. Here's a copy:

It seems that an elected neighborhood representative wanted DC Metro to release "the video" of the incident. What's not in dispute is that 7 officers arrived to find 3 juveniles, resulting in 229 minutes of footage. The elected official's tweet certainly indicates her displeasure at being invoiced for services needed to fulfill her request.

Whilst not every state allows agencies to charge for the production of redacted copies of video / audio, it seems that the Federal City does.

To some, $5,387.00 dollars might seem a bit much. But, is it a fair charge? How did the MPD come up with this rather precise number? MPD's initial response to the request was an invoice indicating a charge for 229 minutes at $23 per minute. Again, where does this number come from? Is it fair?

There's some interesting back and forth on social media about this, like the email reply shown above. But, I was more concerned with the cost calculation.

As I teach redaction, I use a job costing formula that looks like this:

( ___ [total footage time per recording] x ____ [processing time per minute of recording]) x ___ [total subjects or objects to redact] = ___ minutes x ___ recorders = ___ minutes to complete the task. Total time x ___ $/hr (employee cost) = ____ total cost.

The total footage time, in this case, gets divided by the total number of officers on scene with BWCs. The processing time per minute of recording varies based upon what task is being performed. In the standards compliant workflow that I teach, these tasks are Triage, Redaction Task, and Redaction Quality Assurance. Each of these steps use the same formula, but the processing time per minute varies - Triage is the longest, then QA, then the actual redaction task. There's case management and supervisory review to factor in as well.
Note: (I do give the complete formula and all of the variables in class)

Based on the above formula, I calculated that it would take about 311 hours to complete the request. A police records clerk in DC earns between $38k and $45k per year (source). Many states also factor in the total employment cost of the employee, which includes pension and benefits. Also considering that the supervisor most likely earns more, I calculated the average hourly rate to be $26/hr. With this in mind, the cost to fulfill this request would be $8,089.38.  Not far off from what the representative was invoiced.

Assuming that MPD is overworked and that likely some of the workflow was skipped, and assuming that the agency just billed the average employee cost at salary without benefits and pension, the numbers were adjusted. I eliminated the QA step and adjusted the hourly rate to $22/hr. The new totals look like this: 231.01 hours x $22/hr = $5,082.22 - right about where the MPD ended up with their invoice.

I don't intend to weigh in on the politics of one branch of the same government charging another branch. I mean only to illustrate the rational basis of setting costs for redaction of body camera video - or any video that is in police custody and subject to privacy restrictions before public release.

Cost estimation is a necessary step in the process.
  • Supervisors need to know how long it will take to perform each step in the process in order to know whom to assign the work.
  • The process needs to know how long it will take such that the requestor can have an estimated completed date (most statutes require notification if the turn around will be longer than 7 days).
  • Agencies need to know how long these requests take to fulfill such that appropriate staffing levels are maintained.
  • When agencies evaluate technology for redaction, they need a baseline calculation in order to gauge the proposed cost/time numbers.
This exercise is just a peek at what is covered in our Redaction courses. We offer a course specific to California's new laws, a course that covers the issue in the generic (both legal and technical) and is thus applicable all over, as well as courses that cover the general legal environment combined with  the specific technology used for the redaction tasks - Adobe, Amped (with Audacity), or Magix. We offer them either on-site (ours or yours) or on-line. Click here for more information. We'd love to see you in one soon.

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