ST. PAUL, Minn. – The rush to outfit police officers with body cameras after last summer’s unrest in Ferguson, Mo., threatens to saddle local governments with steep costs for managing the volumes of footage they must keep for months or even years, according to contracts, invoices and company data reviewed by The Associated Press.
The storage expenses – running into the millions of dollars in some cities – often go overlooked in the debates over using cameras as a way to hold officers accountable and to improve community relations.
Yet those costs can have a significant effect on city and county budgets, and in some cases may force police chiefs to choose between paying officers on the street or paying yearly video storage fees.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake already has sounded the alarm over the long-term costs of police body cameras.
In December, she vetoed a proposal that would have required officers to wear cameras because she didn’t believe the costs and other details were adequately considered. City officials estimated costs up to $2.6 million a year for storage and the extra staff needed to manage the video data.
In some cities, the AP found that the small cameras worn by beat cops on their uniforms or glasses were obtained at deep discounts when departments inked data-management deals that are far more lucrative over the long run for device manufacturers. Those plans run between $20 and $100 per officer per month, depending on the volume generated.
Demand for the devices is booming after the controversy in Ferguson and would accelerate further if Congress adopts President Barack Obama’s request for $75 million to help communities buy 50,000 more body cameras.
Already, cities are wrestling with whether they can afford to equip all their officers and how often the cameras should be turned off to reduce the video recorded.
With an average officer uploading several videos per shift, it doesn’t take long for data – and the associated expense – to add up.
“It’s enormous,” said Police Chief Gordon Ramsay of Duluth, Minn., where the city’s 110 officer-worn cameras are generating 8,000 to 10,000 videos per month that are kept for at least 30 days and in many cases longer. “The more you capture, the more you have to store, which means higher costs.”
Duluth initially received 84 cameras and charging bays for less than $5,000 from camera maker Taser International, but its three-year contract and licensing agreement for data storage cost about $78,000.