Police body cams sound great, but it will take years to work out all the ramifications, rules for using them, etc. One concern is cost. It’s likely that the initial cost of the cameras is a small fraction of the total cost.
One issue is the cost of storing the video recorded by cams. According to my rough calculations, this could be thousands of dollars per user per year. That will put a hole in any department’s budget.
Some relevant facts from a September 2015 article in Computerword.
In Birmingham, for instance, the the video cameras themselves cost about $180,000, but the department’s total outlay for a five-year contract with Taser will be $889,000. That’s because the pact not only includes a hardware replacement warranty, but the necessary cloud storage and file management service to deal with terabytes of content the cameras are producing.The Birmingham police initially purchased 5TB of online storage on Evidence.com, Taser’s file management cloud, which is built on Amazon’s Web Service (AWS) platform. In just two months, however, the department has already used 1.5TB of its allotment — and it’s on track to exceed the 5TB limit in about six months.
But it’s not the cameras that generate the most money. Glenn Mattson, who follows Taser as an equity analyst for Ladenburg Thalmann, said the company makes a far bigger profit on its storage service than hardware. Last year, Taser’s gross profit margins on hardware were 15.6%; the gross margins for video storage were 51%, Mattson said.
“There’s no contest. They don’t care about making money on the cameras,” Mattson said. “If they can just break even on them, it’s fine, because they’re going to create this high margin stream of revenue on the video side.”
Mattson believes that, on average, police departments pay Taser from $25 to $30 per officer per month right now. But he expects that to rise, and compared the police video storage business to cable subscription services. While the initial cable subscription is usually a great deal, once new services are added, rates climb.
Brewer said his department will likely have to extend the video retention period from two to two-and-a-half years, not because of criminal investigations, but because of lawsuits and civil litigation.
“In our state, [citizens] have up to two years to file a lawsuit. So we need to realistically keep everything two-and-a-half years to give us time to be notified of an impending suit,” he said. “They’re always wanting that video after it’s rolled off the server.”
Costs and quantities for Taser systems:
“There’s the enormous storage and data management cost, which is daunting,” Vining added. “A records management system is a police department’s Bible. If you’re going to create video content, it has to be accessible to the records management system.”
Just as with any physical evidence, video footage must be tracked with a chain of custody, and there are digital rights management issues that determine who can and cannot access police video. The Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) governs policies for securely storing video content.
In default mode, the Axon cameras record at 480p resolution and can store about 8GB of content.
“Most officers record 60 to 90 minutes of video per day,” Ward said. That’s because officers only activate their body cameras when they believe they need to, such as during a traffic stop or when confronting a suspected criminal.
Pricing for Taser’s Evidence.com cloud storage serviceranges from $15 to $79 per month, per user. Taser’s Officer Safety Plan, which automatically replaces old cameras every 2.5 years, costs $99 per officer per month.
VieVu sells its VERIPATROL cloud service as a bundle priced at $55 per month per officer. After purchasing an LE3 camera for $199, the VieVu Solution includes the VERIPATROL secure file management software and 60GB of storage, which can be increased for 12.5 cents per gigabyte per month). An onsite storage software bundle sells for $25 per officer per month.
Now my calculations, pulled from an email to Dave Farber’s IP list. At the bottom is by number of approximately $5000 per year per camera. Calculations are based on numbers in the Computerworld article. http://www.computerworld.com/article/2979627/cloud-storage/as-police-move-to-adopt-body-cams-storage-costs-set-to-skyrocket.html
Birmingham estimates that it needs to store video recordings for 2.5 years. And raw storage cost is only the start. Since the videos intended to be used in legal cases, it requires a chain of custody, plus infrastructure to deliver it to prosecutors and defense attorneys, plus search, plus encryption, plus audit trails to see who watched it, plus redundancy, plus plus… Distributing material can require redaction, plus obscuring faces, plus…. (See https://www.axon.io/products/evidence for a leading provider’s list of services.)
Here is an estimate of 2.3GB per hour per camera for HD quality, which must be based on a lot of compression. http://storage.vievu.com/VERIPATROL/documents/VERIPATROL%20Network%20Whitepaper.pdf
According to this article one storage supplier to police had an incremental price of 12.5 cents per GB per month, as of one year ago. Today, AWS charges about 3 cents/GB-month, plus charges for retrieval. A ratio of 4:1 over raw storage cost is high, but even at half the 12.5 price, storing one hour of HD video for 30 months will cost about $4. Suppose each camera records 100 hours of recording per month. Compare that to the cost of a camera at $500, and the cost of storing merely 1.25 months of video (for 2.5 years) doubles the raw camera cost.
Suppose we replace cameras every 2 years:
$500 per camera every 2 years .
$9600 every 2 years to store the video this camera will create.
Total $10K every 2 years. Per camera, but the key parameters are not the number of cameras but:
- Hours of video taken per cop (100 hours each month)
- Average retention time required for all video (it can be infinite for murder cases, or trivial in states with no record retention laws.) I have used 30 months
- Bit rate of the camera (2.3 GB per hour for HD video)
- Cost to store 1 GB for 1 month (6 cents)
Over time, all these numbers will change, but only one of them is sure to fall: cost per GB of storage.
My conclusion: Police body cam systems will be complicated and expensive to operate. Raw hardware is a small fraction of the total. Competition among vendors will certainly help, but it won’t massively change the problem.
Therefore, police departments should proceed carefully and incrementally.