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Oklahoma Finds Buying, Storing, Updating Body Cams Is Costly

The Stillwater Police Department and the Payne County Sheriff’s Office would like to equip more of their officers with body cameras, but the costs of storing the devices and updating the software may be prohibitive.

(TNS) — The Stillwater, Okla., Police Department and the Payne County Sheriff's Office want to provide additional body cameras to their staff, but the cost of cameras and storage space is high.

As of now, select officers at each department have body-worn cameras. At SPD, the positions that have body cameras are two motorcycle units, two for Special Projects Division and one for the officer who patrols the lake area. PCSO has a total of six deputies with body cameras.

SPD Chief Jeff Watts said there are many costs associated with body cams that most people don't realize. "For example, storing all the digital media is more expensive than the body cameras themselves," Watts said. "The software's cost to run all the programs to view, edit, and store the software, and the cost of licensing the body cameras and car cameras are all very expensive."

PCSO Undersheriff Marvin Noyes said their department is running into the same issues as SPD with server costs. Those servers also store memory from dash cams. "The server system is probably the most expensive. The problem is you have to have a way to download the data and store it," Noyes said. "So it kind of depends, you think about the servers, technically should be replaced every five years. I think it was 10 years on this set. They are like other equipment, eventually they have to be replaced."

PCSO is currently in the process of replacing their servers, which have been installed twice as long as what Noyes said the typical shelf life should be.

Noyes couldn't remember the exact time frame, but said it was close to 10 or 11 years since the server was replaced.

Both PCSO and SPD use the Watchguard body cameras, and Noyes said he and others before him have had trouble with the Watchguard service.

"That's one of the dilemmas we have right now with the Watchguard camera systems. They are a real good system but right now we are having trouble with the service. Now whether that's all weather related or COVID related, I don't know," Noyes said. "That's why we are possibly looking at maybe a different vendor for our camera systems because they're no good to us when they break down and they are out of service for weeks or months because we can't get parts for the equipment."

Costs of Body Cameras for SPD

SPD calculated its costs for body cameras and it totaled at $995 for each unit with a need of 90.

The cost was determined to be $89,550 for body cameras.

An additional cost of $17, 550 for annual device license is a recurring yearly cost.

Added into the additional cost was a transfer station II, Vehicle WIFI Doc, rechargeable battery and a second computer for video redaction. All the additional costs totaled $31,010.

Chief Watts also had an additional $20,000 set aside in case a camera needs to be replaced or it malfunctions.

For everything needed for the body cameras, SPD needs $176,030.

Cost of Body Cameras for PCSO

Undersheriff Noyes didn't have the exact pricing for everything, but estimated the department would need $19,000 for just body cameras. That number does not include the additional costs they may have.

Server Costs for SPD

City Manager Norman McNickle, a former SPD chief said, "the price has come down. The cameras have always been relatively inexpensive. As we are required to maintain all the video recorded for five years, it was the price of digital storage that was very expensive. When I last looked at prices years ago, storage costs hit over $1 million in the third year. That was based on the anticipated hours of footage that would be recorded. There simply was not funding for the storage."

McNickle said this estimation was approximately six or seven years ago, and the cost of storage has decreased.

"The price of storage has significantly decreased. According to the budget study done by Chief Watts assisted by our IT director, we can now buy the cameras and storage sufficient for the five-year requirement for the amount listed.

"Long story short, the current storage cost makes the system affordable," McNickle said.

Watts estimated the cost for storage and upgrades would be $203,000.

This came to a total cost of $379,030 for both storage and body cameras.

Noyes said he would like to purchase additional body cameras for his deputies, but it boils down to the cost.

He said they recently hired a few deputies and the cost to outfit them and get new patrol vehicles will take priority over the body cams.

"We're going to purchase more body cameras eventually. Vehicles are the most important need right now," Noyes said. "We have to be able to get out to the public and get to the calls. So, if it would come down to that, whether we purchased vehicles versus cameras, obviously it's going to be a vehicle that's higher on the priority list."

Importance of Body Cameras for Law Enforcement

Both Noyes and Watts agreed that having body cameras is important for officers for many reasons.

"For most police officers and the public, the answer is yes. The public wants officers to wear body cameras to improve transparency between the police and the public. Officers want the cameras to protect themselves from false allegations and to support their testimony in the courtroom," Watts said.

Still, Watts said there are members of the public and officers who oppose body cameras for privacy concerns.

"Video recordings are subject to open records requests by the media and the public," Watts said. "Once these videos become an open record, they can be published for the whole world to see. The thought of having the worst moments of your life put on public display concerns many people."

Noyes said body cameras can provide transparency and hold officers accountable.

"I believe they are very important. Today, where we are in law enforcement, it is very important. They hold officers accountable and make the department more transparent," Noyes said.

PCSO has the plan to purchase body cameras but who will receive them is still to be determined.

Chief Watts will be presenting the information for systems and body cameras at a City Council meeting in April.

(c)2021 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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