Report: Some police departments finding body cameras too expensive
Most York County police departments using body cameras agree the equipment is important to modern law enforcement, but some state and local officers are concerned about potentially expensive recurring costs.
The Washington Post published a story last week reporting police departments nationwide are now delaying or eliminating body camera programs because of annual recurring costs, specifically related to storage.
“... Storing all the data that (body cameras) collect — that cost is extraordinary," Jim Pasco, executive director at the National Fraternal Order of Police, told the newspaper.
How it started: The body-camera movement has been a nationwide measure among police departments to improve accountability following a series of police-involved shootings and protests in response to them.
Approximately half of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies have some type of body-camera program, the Post reported, and many of them are in their pilot stages.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, has given police departments about 340 grants worth nearly $70 million for the initial purchase of cameras, the Post added.
In York County, five departments have purchased such cameras, and two of those departments were helped through grants:
- York City Police Department. It received a $100,000 grant from WellSpan Health in 2016 for its body camera program, which currently has 79 cameras.
- York City School District Police Department. It received a $25,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Office of Safe Schools in 2016 for 14 body cameras. The program took effect in 2017. It also recently secured another $25,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to cover equipment upgrades.
- Springettsbury Township Police Department. Without a grant, it purchased 24 cameras, a hard drive and servers for $52,000 last year.
- Hellam Township Police Department. Without a grant, it purchased eight body cameras, dash cameras and data management services in 2017 for roughly $50,000.
- Hanover Police Department. It purchased cameras last year but didn't immediately respond to inquiries for more detail.
All of the department chiefs — excluding Hanover — confirmed the cameras are helpful. However, while none said their programs are in jeopardy, some said they are worried about recurring costs.
In terms of data storage, state laws that require departments to save video and audio recordings for a period of time can boost costs.
For example, in Indiana, departments must hold onto the files for at least 190 days.
The Post reports at least 14 other states have such laws, but it's not the same in Pennsylvania. Here, storage-length requirements are left up to the departments — where locally, most of which have 60-day policies.
Possible future troubles: The York City Police Department's body camera program is on sound financial footing for now, but it also is in the process of finding funding to upgrade and stay on top of ever-changing technology, Chief Troy Bankert said.
"We're committed to the body-worn cameras — they're so valuable," he said. "We're also in a constant state of technology-chasing because these things don't last forever."
While he emphasized there are several options for replacing the current technology, grant-chasing has led to some worries in the department, said Capt. Matt Leitzel.
If the department takes the route of completely revamping its system, it would cost between $250,000 and $566,000, he said. Most grant opportunities require the department to shell out half the costs, which could lead to up to a roughly $280,000 price tag.
The department also will most likely exceed its capabilities for evidence storage and dissemination, which could lead to hiring a full-time position to bear such responsibilities, he added.
The Pennsylvania State Police are more concerned, said spokesman Ryan Tarkowski.
The state police supplied 30 body cameras to officers last year for a pilot program, which was funded by a $52,000 grant from the federal government.
With the state now looking to fully implement the use of cameras, financial roadblocks are becoming evident, Tarkowski said.
Supportive, but worried: "We remain supportive of body-warn cameras, but (an official program) doesn't have a time table at this point," he said, adding funding “is a major hurdle."
The department doesn't yet have numbers as to how much it would cost to purchase cameras for its officers — there are more than 4,000 — or cover the annual costs to maintain the cameras and store data, Tarkowski added.
There are some York County departments that aren't worried.
The Springettsbury Township Police Department, for example, has no financial concerns and is very happy with the body cameras — even though the department typically keeps data up to two years, more than other departments, said Chief Daniel Stump.
Stump attributed the financial stability to the department's foresight, as it made a one-time payment and has little recurring costs because it uses on-site servers. He predicts it will be four years until they will have to upgrade storage space.
“We’re fully aware of the recurring costs," he said. "We’re in good shape. (The body cameras) aren't in jeopardy. We planned for it, and we're glad to keep them running to this day.”
The Hellam Township Police Department covered the roughly $50,000 price tag up front, as well, and there are few recurring costs until the technology is no longer under warranty, said Chief Doug Pollock.
The York City School District also is on good financial footing, especially now that upgrades will be covered by the more recent $25,000 grant the department has received, said spokeswoman Erin James.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.