Whether to counter bystander cell phone videos or to offer full transparency to the citizens they protect, but definitely due to officer involved shootings, police departments across the nation began using body cams over the last few years. Now, due to high storage costs some smaller departments are ditching body cams.
In 2015, 1,800 police departments reported a “fatal officer-involved shooting”. Of those, approximately 1,300 had 50 or less police officers. Although the Justice Department helps cover $70 million in equipment costs through grants, individual departments have to cover footage storage costs. Some departments, according to state law, has to store such footage for up to 90 days.
Such is the case for Chicago suburb East Dundee, with annual storage costs of $20,000 while only employing 17 officers and serving a population of 3000. Police chief George Carpenter couldn’t advocate for the use of body cams when considering East Dundee budget concerns. Wahoo, Nebraska police department has made the same decision with an annual cost of $15,000 and a police force of 17. Some larger departments are also facing the same funding concerns. Arlington County Virginia, came to the same conclusion when a test program estimated its annual cost would be $300,000.
For some cities cost is a primary but not the only concern when considering ditching body cams. In November, officials in Madison, Wisconsin decided not to spend $104,000 on a body cam pilot project. Along with the high cost, concerns that footage would be used against illegal immigrants was another deciding factor. According to activist M. Adams, “A call for transparency is not the same thing as accountability”. In the mind of M. Adams, no matter how much footage is available, if the people cannot be the Decider in Chief as to whom the guilty party of the footage is, no amount of footage is worth having. In this authors mind, illegal immigrants should not be a part of the discussion. It is another way for illegals to skirt law enforcement in sanctuary cities.
According to body cam manufacturer Axon, every department that has ended contracts with them cite storage costs as their reason for doing so. Purchasing and supplying officers with body cams isn’t very expensive. Especially with the Justice Department offering grants. Storing what can amount to hundreds or thousands of hours of footage is quite expensive. Consider the cost for cloud storage daily users of information incur. For me it’s easier to delete data that I don’s feel needs to be saved in order to free up space allocated by my service provider, but police departments don’t have it that easy. For instance, in 2016, Jeffersonville, Indiana lawmakers instituted a regulation requiring body cam footage to be held for 190 days.
Workload and increased cost for prosecutors and public defenders are also reasons districts are ditching body cams. Typically, public defenders and prosecutors are paid a flat rate per case with an assumption as to how many days it takes to prepare a case. Naturally, reviewing and preparing body cam footage adds to that prep time. To keep a steady workflow, municipalities would have to hire more commonwealth attorneys and also more paralegals.