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Body Cameras Raise Concerns on Privacy and Total Costs

Mar 09, 2016 02:50PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Stacy Nielsen | stacy@mycityjournals.com

Sandy - A presentation given to Sandy City Council by Ken Wallentine, the vice president and senior legal adviser of Lexipol, about the effectiveness of body-worn cameras on police officers, the total cost of implementation and recurring costs, also raised privacy concerns once the video is captured. Wallentine has traveled the country consulting city officials on body-worn cameras, though he primarily deals with force and violence issues. 

“Every time you take a record you have to put it somewhere; you have a record and you have to keep it for a certain amount of time,” Wallentine said. “Many cities have launched without thinking of the total costs of ownership, and it has impacted two hard costs: servers and bandwidth.”

“We keep things for six months unless it’s marked otherwise. We may need to hold it longer for court,” Police Chief Kevin Thacker said when asked about the current policy regarding how long video is kept from both body worn cameras and dash cam videos. 

In addition to purchase cost, the recurring costs include maintenance and redaction. The biggest cost cited is the downloading and storage, with the second hidden cost being what you do with the video after it is captured -- having the necessary bandwidth to accommodate the various file sizes, which is dependent upon the length of the video.

A study out of Baltimore, Maryland, sheds light on the issue. The Baltimore Police Department estimated the total cost of body-worn cameras in the first year to be from $5.5 million to $7.9 million, depending on the type of the camera and the number of officers who wear them. The greatest variable in cost cited  were the resources needed in order to redact the video. 

Conservative estimates of the cost of redaction itself is about $1.7 million. However, the city of Baltimore has an estimated population of 600,000 whereas Sandy City’s estimated population is 90,000, and the number of officers in Baltimore is an estimated 27 times the size of Sandy’s police force. So these numbers, while not insignificant, may or may not be comparable to Sandy’s demographics. Sandy City currently has a total of 10 body worn cameras; four are in the patrol division and six in motor officer’s division. 

“It’s difficult to make a fair comparison; the places where you get really good data analysis are the larger cities that have the resources to do the in-depth studies,” Wallentine said.

Meanwhile, his analysis also begs the question whether the video is considered a public record or is there a privacy breach if it’s all public record, even if the video has been redacted. Civil liberties advocates appear to be divided on the question if everything police do should be recorded. This concern has been raised due to reports around the nation of body- worn camera videos being uploaded to sites like YouTube, some of which has been done by police departments in reported efforts to increase transparency.  

“You want to know who really controls intimate details about people in your community. It’s the police chief [who is the guardian of] public records,” Wallentine said. “Is that the privacy breach (referring to release of BWC video) that you want to have in the community?”

“Sandy City already has one of the most transparent and the most accountable police departments in the country,” Wallentine said.

 “We haven’t had to worry about redacting any dash cam videos yet, and they are different because you aren’t going into people’s homes. You are dealing in public areas, but we won’t show body parts or active crime scene videos. Redacting will be an issue when we start with body cameras because you are in homes, so you may have to deal with people that aren’t involved in the crime,” Thacker said. He indicated that there may potentially be HIPPA law violations if a resident has a medical concern or issue that would potentially become available to the public via current GRAMMA laws. 

Though there haven’t been any Fourth Amendment cases about privacy, a question asked by Councilwoman Maren Barker, as Wallentine indicated there have been strict controls in place once it has been captured to date. 

Wallentine suggested policy considerations to require cameras to be worn conspicuously and encouraged city officials to look at the complete agenda for remaining mandates by state legislation. There is the possibility of needing a warrant to get access of the recording as legislators look implement statewide guidelines. Sen. Daniel Thatcher and House Rep. Dan McCay both have bills that would impose restrictions. 

“The staffing intensity that it requires may determine whether or not we want to go bigger. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Legislation is going to have to take on all of these issues,” Thacker said. 

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