Police departments have experienced great results using body cameras on their officers, but they are finding it difficult to keep up with the rising costs involved. During the last two months the police department in Birmingham, AL has employed 319 body cameras. Over this time, citizen complaints in that area have fallen by 71%, while the use of force by officers has decreased by 38%. The police department is extremely pleased with the result, and their plan is to incorporate another 300 body cameras into their system. Eventually, the department hopes to have a body camera on every officer wearing a uniform.
However, this success comes at a cost. Petabytes (1 million gigabytes) of video footage is being uploaded nationwide, and file management is becoming a major concern. Additionally, the vast amount of footage is causing cloud storage costs to rise. The cameras themselves also cost money. In Birmingham, the cameras value at around $180,000 in total. The Birmingham Police Department is due to exceed its five terabyte storage limit in less than six months. Going over the limit will cost the department millions of dollars to upgrade their storage plan.
The use of body cameras by police departments has been growing nationwide. Two major manufacturers of body cameras, Taser and VieVu, claim to have shipped cameras to 41% of the America’s police departments. However, most of their income is obtained through cloud storage rather than the cameras themselves. According to Taser, last year their margin on storage was 51%, while their margin on hardware was only 15.6%. On average, police departments are estimated to pay Taser $25 to $30 per officer on a monthly basis.
Police departments have often been unable to keep up with these costs. Because of this, the departments are forced to make hard decisions when deciding which evidence to keep and which evidence must be deleted in order to free up space. It varies how long exactly a certain video will need to be retained, but some evidence, such as evidence relating to a murder, must be kept indefinitely. Lawsuits and civil litigations are also forcing evidence to be retained for longer periods of time. Maintaining these records and keeping them easily accessible is becoming increasingly costly for the police departments.
The camera manufacturer Taser has experienced fantastic growth as a result of this phenomenon. This year alone, more than one petabyte of police videos have been uploaded to the Taser storage system. A new police video is uploaded approximately every 2.9 seconds. According to the company, sales are up by 170% from last year. Taser estimates that its current sales for the year so far have reached $30.6 million.
The reason for the increased usage of body cameras by police departments stems from political pressure. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO caused a significant shift in dynamics. Since the incident, requests for trial units of body cameras have increased by more than 75%.
Despite the costs involved, police departments have been pleased with the result. Studies have indicated that officers are less likely to use force, and citizens are less likely to issue complaints. By wearing cameras, officers are believed to be more careful in performing their duties. So far, most police departments have found that the costs are worth the results. The number of lawsuits has decreased, and police departments are saving money in the long run. It can be expected that the usage of body cameras by police departments will continue to increase in the future.