In the wake of the Baltimore riots, police forces are quickly deploying body cameras to record police activities, raising logistical questions about how to store all that video, and for how much.
A leaked $2.7 million contract between Taser International and the Fort Worth, Texas, police department shows contractors are lining up to provide the service, while marking up storage prices as high as 23 times what they should be.
Such plundering of public funds is hardly new in the are of paramilitary policing, where forces rush to get their hands on military-grade hardware despite having little to no use for it. In Taser's case, the company's Evidence.com app and video-storage fees are literally 23 times more expensive than Amazon Web Services charges for storage alone, which Taser uses to host files for Evidence.com.
While police require extra software functions such as security and some applications to retrieve footage, these are all one time costs and do not come anywhere near justifying the outrageous price Taser has decided to charge.
Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle tried to muddy the waters by saying that a "direct comparison is inaccurate."
"By looking at the storage line items, you can see that we've never charged a customer over $1.50" per gigabyte per year, Tuttle adds.
The only problem with that fine sounding statement is that Amazon, of which Taser is essentially a middle-man to, charges less than 36¢ a year, for its top storage option.
The difference in price is significant. Fort Worth purchased 64 terabytes of storage a year from Taser, which at Amazon's highest-priced option costs about $30 per terabyte per month, or about $23,040 a year assuming no bulk discount.
That compares with $527,198 Taser is charging the Forth Worth police department.
Taser, which supplies stun guns and body cameras, is using its hardware to lure police forces into the ridiculously expensive monthly service. Yet in the Fort Worth contract, the price is still 14 times more expensive than Amazon, even when factoring in free hardware.
Thanks to supply rules, carved out by the lobbyists that represent the major defense contractors, "Only certain companies can be considered, as we have specific needs in reference to the storing of criminal evidence," Officer Tamara Pena, a spokeswoman for the department, said.
By eliminating competition from the bidding process, Taser gets to be nearly the only game in town and can charge whatever it would like.
With contracts already in place to provide energy weapons to nearly all of the 18,000-plus police departments in the U.S., Taser is now a leader in the body camera and video-storage markets. It been aggressively pursuing these markets after a wave of litigation over the lethal use of its stun guns.
The astounding rate at which companies like Taser can siphon money out of the public coffers mean less schools, roads, hospitals and other vital community services for American cities and towns. And big paydays for Taser executives and their shareholders.
Which also gives rise to ethical concerns. Taser, in seeking this super-lucrative new business, has been found to be bribing local police chiefs to make sure it gets its foot in the door. Once its in, moving away from the company is difficult. Taser then attaches itself like a parasite, sucking public funds for years or decades to come.