What is the true cost of police body cameras? - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

What is the true cost of police body cameras?

Police have been using them for years now, but the stock price of the companies that manufacture body-worn cameras didn't shift into hyper-drive until the middle of last year. Police have been using them for years now, but the stock price of the companies that manufacture body-worn cameras didn't shift into hyper-drive until the middle of last year.
As a prosecutor with the 15th Circuit Solicitor's office, Scott Hickson has watched this new obsession with the technology grow, in his words, too fast! As a prosecutor with the 15th Circuit Solicitor's office, Scott Hickson has watched this new obsession with the technology grow, in his words, too fast!
"We can get the cameras pretty cheaply - you know, $500, $800 roughly on a national average. But the data storage and the retention policies may put that per-camera price off the charts, in the millions.” "We can get the cameras pretty cheaply - you know, $500, $800 roughly on a national average. But the data storage and the retention policies may put that per-camera price off the charts, in the millions.”
Myrtle Beach police outfitted all of its more than 200 officers with cameras this year, at a cost of more than a quarter million dollars. Myrtle Beach police outfitted all of its more than 200 officers with cameras this year, at a cost of more than a quarter million dollars.
Dozens of police agencies across the state are now looking to Myrtle Beach Police to see how a larger force is able to absorb the costs of having every officer outfitted with a body camera. Dozens of police agencies across the state are now looking to Myrtle Beach Police to see how a larger force is able to absorb the costs of having every officer outfitted with a body camera.
MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - From Myrtle Beach to Florence, the men and women who are paid to protect your family are in the middle of a crisis unlike any we have seen in 50 years. What's at stake is very simple, yet profound, and can be summed up in a single question: do you trust the police?The answer to that question has agencies across the country betting millions of your tax dollars on a tool they say can repair a broken relationship.

The message has been loud and clear for months now, from Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Walter Scott, too many people are now convinced a police officer's words cannot be trusted, thanks in part to the technology in the hands of every person walking down the street. And while it's the lens on a cell phone that has opened this breach of trust, it's that same technology police are convinced that can close it.

Police have been using them for years now, but the stock price of the companies that manufacture body-worn cameras didn't shift into hyper-drive until the middle of last year. Now, companies like Taser, L-3, Wolfcom and Watchguard can barely keep up with demand.

Surfside Beach Police accelerated their push to get every officer outfitted and just completed training with the cameras this month - $30,000 made it happen.

“You know as well as I do everybody has cameras now, whether it's a cell phone camera or a recording portable video camera," said Chief Rodney Keziah with the Surfside Beach Police Department. "And we want to have the same technology to show it from our officer's point of view, not just someone else's.”

Translation: We are responding to a growing mistrust of law enforcement.

“One of the dangers of using video is there comes to be a certain belief that if I didn't see it, it must not have happened,” said Scott Hickson with the Horry County Solicitor's office.

Hickson has been studying the pros and cons of body-worn cameras for years. As a prosecutor with the 15th Circuit Solicitor's office, he has watched this new obsession with the technology grow, in his words, too fast! He's convinced we're reaching the point where juries may feel a lack of video means a lack of a real case.

“I think that's a legitimate concern,” he said. “I think that is the danger because clearly you can perceive and see more on your own than a camera is ever able to, and it might be the case that if it's not there, it didn't happen. If it's not there it didn't happen. Even though it absolutely did.”

The cameras themselves may be relatively cheap, but each officer will roll an average of four hours of footage in a 10-hour shift. That's 20 gigabytes of data that has to be tagged, archived, redacted and uploaded to a massive server or purchased cloud space. That takes extra people.

Hickson doesn't think any of the departments making the move to body cameras right now have any clue of the real costs down the road.

“I don't think anybody really know how much it's going to cost us," he said. "We can get the cameras pretty cheaply - you know, $500, $800 roughly on a national average. But the data storage and the retention policies may put that per-camera price off the charts, in the millions.”

Myrtle Beach police outfitted all of its more than 200 officers with cameras this year, at a cost of more than a quarter million dollars. The chief just asked the city council for additional funds to cover the follow-up cost of keeping the system running, but believes the taxpayer is getting a big bang for the buck.

“Our whole goal is to be transparent to the public,” said Lt. Joey Crosby with the Myrtle Beach Police Department. “We want the public to be able to see what we're doing on a daily basis. By wearing these body cams, you get to see that from the officer's viewpoint. You get to see what we see and what we hear.”

Not everyone is convinced these snap-ons are worth the risk to the public purse.

The Florence Police Department tested body cams and then suddenly backed off, unsure of just how deep the cost would dig into the budget.

Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson has seen the research and the costs. He too is not ready to push "record."

“The storage - once you get the cameras, that's one thing," Sheriff Thompson said. “But when you start paying for the storage, working it, [Freedom of Information] requests, redacting, things of this nature, I want to make sure that we understand exactly where we're going.”

For Sheriff Thompson, this will not be the year for his deputies. In fact, Thompson finds the state legislature's threats to mandate body cameras for all police officers a scary proposition. That decision, he insists, should be left to the individual agency.

Our local delegation is convinced despite the pressure by some, the Sheriff has nothing to worry about…this year!

“The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is in the process of actually running a pilot program to determine the best way to handle this issue,” State Rep. Alan Clemmons says. “It's unlikely the legislature will be ready to force the issue on local police departments this year. But, I think the debate's coming.”

But costs aren't the only concern for your police. This culture of mistrust that has led to the transparency body cameras provide comes with another potential side effect that is not good for police investigations.

In the past, a witness at the scene could all but guarantee his privacy when offering a tip to an officer at the scene of a crime. How many will refuse to talk to police now for fear of becoming the part of the video archive?

“Where is the balance?” Hickson asks. "Where do we want to say, I want to know everything that police officer is doing and by the way, I'm not going to talk to that police officer because he's got a camera on me and I'm afraid it'll get 'FOIA-ed', it will get out, it'll be on Facebook, and then people are coming to my house and so I'm just staying out of this whole thing. I'm just staying quiet.”

That consideration is not on the minds of those who feel police have been operating in the dark long enough.

Last week, Reverend. Jesse Jackson paid a visit to the site of the Walter Scott shooting and participated in city hall discussion about the use of body cameras. We asked Rev. Jackson if expectations were just too high when it comes to how effective these cameras will be in rebuilding trust.

“We need good police. They need to be credible,” Rev. Jackson insisted. “But now they're losing their credibility because so many cases of police injuring and killing people. Body camera will return some of that credibility. They could be a deterrence.”

Rev. Jackson is one in a long list of community leaders convinced transparency is priceless.

“We deserve better than that," he said. "We want good police, but police must be good.” 

And turning back may not be an option, anyway.

“An agency can't say 'I don't want to be transparent anymore,'” Hickson said. “That loses the whole point of having them, and that's to be transparent and let the community know what's happening. So, why are you hiding this? Why are you taking the cameras off?”

In other words, once a police officer puts that camera on, it's never coming off, whether taxpayers can afford it or not. And with the demonstrations and demands for transparency from Ferguson, Missouri to North Charleston, South Carolina, there may not be a police agency left in the county that doesn't realize, body cameras are on the way, whether they're affordable or not.

Dozens of police agencies across the state are now looking to Myrtle Beach Police to see how a larger force is able to absorb the costs of having every officer outfitted with a body camera. The state is also paying very close attention to the city's body camera policies, everything from when they choose to run the cameras to how much video they release when requests come from the media, citizens and attorneys.

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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