The White House announced Monday that it will dedicate $263 million federal dollars to outfitting 50,000 state and local police with body cameras as well as training and increased oversight. What the plan doesn't include, however, is any guidelines on how agencies should handle the enormous amount of data these cameras will generate, how long the video is kept, who keeps it, where it is stored or when it should be accessed.
The cost of storage alone will far exceed the cost of individual cameras, which can range from a few hundred dollars apiece to $1,000. A number of police officials told International Business Times that high operating costs connected with the cameras are the primary reason why they haven’t invested in them already. “The cost of the cameras is nothing compared to the cost of storage,” Lindsay Miller, senior research associate at the Police Executive Research Forum and an author of one of the few comprehensive studies on the use of body cameras, said.
She added that police are “overwhelmingly” in favor of body cameras, with the size of an individual department most likely to dictate how much they can dedicate to server costs. “Technology has outpaced the law and policy,” Miller said. “One thing we heard was ‘We want to implement these cameras, but we don’t have any guidance or regulation.’ It’s all very new.”
In the absence of federal guidelines, local police departments are looking to the early-adopter police departments for precedents. Florida’s Daytona Beach Police Department began using body cameras in 2012 and has had to answer questions from the community about what happens to the footage that’s collected on the street.
“We keep the body camera video forever,” Jimmie Flynt, Daytona Beach Police Department's public information officer, said Wednesday. “The chief’s position is if he can be sued for something that happened 20 years ago, then why would he get rid of the video in 30 days?”
Daytona pays $1,000 per camera, purchasing them from Taser and subscribing to a separate cloud service through Evidence.com, which is also owned by Taser. Flynt added that the department pays a flat annual rate of $50,000 for storage for 90 cameras, a price he said the department was able to secure only because it was one of the first departments in Florida to sign up. He also said that storing video with a third party makes it impossible for police to delete or tamper with any of the footage they record, thus “creating a chain of custody.”
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is among those testing the waters with body cameras. At least six officers will start wearing body cameras when a three-month pilot program begins on Dec. 15. Sgt. Kendale Adams said the current plan is to keep footage that could be used as evidence -- for instance, in the case of a disagreement with an officer -- indefinitely. Unlike the Daytona plan, however, Indianapolis police plan to delete innocuous footage at the end of the same day it’s recorded in an attempt to save space on the department’s own storage server.
Then there's when the cameras are turned off and on in the field. Just this week a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was fired for refusing an order to record and upload all of his interactions with the public. Officer Jeremy Dear fatally shot a 19-year-old woman in April, an event that a police spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal should have been recorded on camera, but it wasn’t. Department brass didn’t believe Dear’s claim that he tried unsuccessfully to turn on the camera.
Differing policies on which video is stored and when cameras are turned off and on are worrying to civil libertarians. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that uneventful footage be kept at least until citizens can no longer file complaints against police, which depending on the jurisdiction often ranges from 30 to 90 days. Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the ACLU's speech, privacy and technology project, said deleting footage too quickly in an attempt to save costs could undermine the entire initiative.
“This is a technology that should primarily be used for police oversight, not just to solve crimes,” Stanley said. “It’s a new technology, a lot of police departments are trying to figure out how to work it, and we’re actually working with a lot of them to figure out what a good policy looks like.”