Capturing events on video in real-time seems like a good idea. After all, it can be used as potential evidence and to clarify incidents that could incriminate police, victims, or criminals. However, is this a wise use of your taxpayer dollars? What about matters concerning your privacy, efficacy, and cost? Let’s take a look.
Your Privacy Could Be At Stake
The use of Police cameras raises some substantial privacy issues. The nature of police work requires interacting with citizens during their most vulnerable moments. Would you feel comfortable knowing anyone could request to see a video of an incident that occurred within your private home? Or footage of you if you have been the victim of a crime? The general public could submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain copies of police videos if they are not being held as evidence, and embarrassing situations could be posted anywhere, including social media.
The use of body cameras could prevent some witnesses from coming forward to the police for justified fear of retaliation. A citizen’s right to privacy should be sacred and self-evident, and the informant’s necessity of privacy should always be respected.
Another privacy concern, according to the ACLU, is that police body cameras are effectively being worn as “roving surveillance devices that track our faces, voices, and even the unique way we walk.” This information could be used “to track, classify, and discriminate against people based on their most personal, innate features.”
Are Body Cameras Reliable?
Many things can go wrong with body camera technology. They can malfunction due to operator error or a low battery charge. They can also fail due to the age of the equipment or weather conditions. Even a simple lens obstruction could create issues with the collected footage.
There is also the chance of files being accidentally deleted when transferring videos to storage or recovering the video to review for evidence. Many of these issues would make evidence collected on body cameras unreliable in a trial. Since body cameras are not foolproof, the careful management of collected videos is very important and requires expensive, highly trained staff to avoid errors.
Our Lakeland Police Department already has in-car cameras to record any incidents that occur during police stops, which would make the use of body cameras redundant and an added cost to the taxpayer.
What Are the True Costs of Body Cameras?
The cost of equipping police departments with body cameras is extremely expensive as departments have to budget not only for the camera itself but also for auxiliary equipment (such as a car charger or mounting equipment), training, data storage facilities, extra staff to manage the video data, and maintenance costs.
The Baltimore, Maryland Police Department enlisted in a program for equipping body-worn cameras in 2016, costing $11.3 million. By June 25, 2020, the costs had skyrocketed to $35.1 million.
Many police departments, particularly smaller departments with smaller budgets, have scrapped their body-worn camera programs, citing the increasing costs of the cameras, maintenance of the programs, staff, and data storage.
In Virginia, a Sheriff’s office stopped using body cameras due to the fallibility of their on-off buttons and poor integration with their IT systems, which has resulted in the system incorrectly matching camera footage to the officer wearing the camera.  As the cameras, the equipment that supports them, and its networks age, the cost of maintaining or replacing this equipment will only keep rising.
The Issue of Digital Storage and Management
Not only will body cameras need to be purchased, but there are the added costs of storing the files on either a cloud-based system or physically at the police station, plus the added expense of hiring and training staff to store the data and manage the video data.
In addressing the concerns for privacy, efficacy, and cost, this is not a decision to be made in haste. How many cases at the Lakeland PD over the past five years would have benefitted from body cameras? Is Lakeland truly a candidate for this kind of expenditure? Has the data been collected or, has the Police Department consulted on the true need, if any, for this equipment? Is this truly a top priority for the City of Lakeland to consider?
Let’s start there before making any quick decision because of pressure from outside sources.