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Body-Worn Cameras: Difficulties with Implementation and the Potential Impact on Procurement

Published: November 07, 2017

Information TechnologyInformation TechnologyJustice and Public SafetyJustice/Public Safety & Homeland SecurityNEW HAMPSHIREPENNSYLVANIATENNESSEEWISCONSIN

Departments try to handle the full spectrum costs associated with the introducing body-worn cameras.

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) represent an area of great growth in the public safety sector. With around one-third of the 18,000 state and local police departments in the United States implementing BWCs and many others considering the introduction of the systems it is important to understand the full spectrum of costs, both monetary and legislatively, associated with bringing a new form of data into police departments.   

The expense of implementing BWC systems for state and local police departments rests mainly in the storage and the physical cameras. The costs associated with the actual cameras is relatively low compared to what the overall costs of the storage system add up to over the lifetime of the system. While cameras are a one-time cost, typically between $400 and $1,000, storage costs will effect departments for many years. Some larger police departments can collect up to 10,000 hours of camera footage a week. Depending on how long a department decides to store that data, one of the regulatory obstacles to BWC, departments will need to invest in advanced storage systems. Police Departments in Kern County California estimate that storage costs are about $100 a month per camera. Storage costs in New Haven Connecticut are approximately $350,000 per year for unlimited cloud-based storage. The type of video data stored can also effect the cost with higher resolution video costing almost double as lower resolution video. For large departments the cost can rise into the millions and for small to mid-sized departments the costs can still be prohibitive. Aside from the financial cost of utilizing BWCs the legislative and regulatory issues can also impact departments. 

The legal and bureaucratic issues of how to responsibly use BWC are still evolving as more departments attempt to leverage the technology. Issues related to where, when and who can be filmed have effected departments around the country. As well, determining who can access the video data and when is a divisive issue in states. Police departments in Pennsylvania, who plans to test body cameras in 2018, and Wisconsin have already decided to limit the amount of access the public will have to recording captured from cameras. While police departments are concerned about the privacy of the footage once it is captured many citizens are also apprehensive about being incidentally filmed and what police departments are able to do with that information. Determining where and when a police officer is allowed to film is another legislative and regulatory hurdle that must be overcome to fully implement body cameras. A Pennsylvania law that took effect in September 2017 gives officers the authority to record inside homes which has allowed the state to move forward with the test program. Regulating the use of a new technology is always a slow process and this will continue to be an issue for departments looking to procure body cameras in the future.

Procurement of BWCs is likely to grow over the next five years as government entities clear the legislative and regulatory obstacles facing departments. It will remain tough to gather enough funding for some agencies as body cameras will have to compete with other initiatives including FirstNet, Next Generation 911 and Land Mobile Radio systems for sufficient resources. With Justice and Public Safety spending expected to modestly rise over the next five years departments will have to determine which major procurement projects are necessary and which can wait. While federal grant allocations have increased for the federal fiscal year 2018 the amount dedicated to state and local programs, including BWC systems, decreased by around $479 million. As well, according to a survey of law enforcement officers from across the country BWCs are the third highest priority over the next five years behind Radio Communications and Mobile Data technology. However, when comparing costs between new radio, 911 and data systems, BWCs are on average cheaper to procure. Deltek currently has 18 body worn camera and related systems opportunities. For the remainder of the year we estimate that both Tennessee and New Hampshire will be releasing solicitations in December 2017 for body cameras. This number is expected to rise as many states have legislation mandating the employment of body worn cameras.