Claims that police body cameras may cost more than expected are called into question 

click to enlarge This is the type of body camera that San Francisco police officer would use. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • This is the type of body camera that San Francisco police officer would use.

The Police Department's body-camera pilot program may cost far more than expected, calling into question the financial reality of expanding the program to all officers.

Such was the tone of a recent report on the status of the pilot program, which the department now estimates will cost almost double the $250,000 grant originally tapped to pay for equipping a mere 50 officers with cameras, and for only two hours of footage a day.

The total cost of the pilot program for one year, noted Robert Moser, commander of the department's Investigations Bureau, will be $449,000 including personnel for data management, among other costs, including personnel.

The 50 cameras themselves only cost $33,999. But data storage costs $1.50 per hour of video per year or about $100,000 a year for the first year, Moser said.

"Someday, body cameras will be standard equipment for all police officers," Police Chief Greg Suhr told the Police Commission Wednesday night, after the report was released. "But right now, the cost to put them on the 1,600 officers who just got phones, you can see what the cost would be to run them 24 hours a day."

That impression was quickly called into question by Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who said that Moser's presentation came off as if the program is dead on arrival.

"Where's the positive presentation here today," DeJesus said. "Someone else is paying for this. It's a grant. It's something to go out and use. It's something that's coming. It's expensive right now, but it's coming."

Calls for body cameras have come from progressive supervisors as well as the public defender, who have all said the cameras will encourage proper police conduct and reassure the public if and when a questionable incident occurs.

One example of such worries in recent years is undercover police units that have been under scrutiny for alleged illegal searches caught on tape at single-occupancy hotels.

The pilot program will give the $679.99 Taser Axom cameras to 50 plainclothes or undercover supervisors to use during searches, and is set to begin once the department finalizes guidelines for their use.

Suhr, who said a Department of Justice grant for the program will only cover half the cost, defended the status report, which he said was not an attempt to frighten people, but rather an attempt at "tempering expectations."

Deputy Police Chief Sharon Ferrigno said in October that it would cost $4 million to equip the whole force with cameras. She did not say if that estimate included data storage costs.

Los Angeles has committed to issuing cameras to all its police officers. The first 800 body cameras, which cost more than $1.5 million, will be given to L.A. police this month.

Equipping Los Angeles' 7,000 officers with cameras, with possible federal grant dollars, is estimated to cost anywhere from $7 million to $9 million.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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