By: ProcurementIQ Analyst, Nate Gelman
In recent years, public protests have erupted over cell-phone video recordings that document law enforcement officers using lethal force in the field. Reacting to these protests, a growing number of governments and police departments across the country are adopting body camera programs, causing demand for these products to surge. With body cameras becoming an increasingly utilized tool in law enforcement, an understanding of the pricing, purchasing process and market dynamics for these products is important for procurement professionals within the public sector.
Razor and Blades Pricing Model
Despite rising demand, body camera prices have come down substantially. Leading manufacturers have been able to bring production costs down through economies of scale. In addition, prices of key inputs, such as semiconductor and electronic components, have also fallen. According to ProcurementIQ, these factors have caused body camera prices to fall at an estimated annualized rate of 3.2% in the three years to 2017.
Prices are also kept low by a razor and blades business model, whereby suppliers sell cameras for a low profit or loss. However, government buyers also get locked into pricey long-term data storage contracts through the use of this model. In fact, major suppliers obtain most of their revenue from data storage fees. Body cameras produce massive volumes of video data, which must be stored and cataloged so that footage can be easily accessed for evidentiary purposes. Most police departments lack the core competency of storing and cataloging reams of video recordings and instead outsource these services to body camera vendors. For example, in June 2016, the Los Angeles Police Department entered a five-year, $28 million contract with major supplier Taser. More than half of the funds were allocated toward cloud-based video storage. According to the Associated Press, police departments pay an average of $20 to $100 per camera per month for data storage and management.
Integrating Task Force
Fortunately, by utilizing the knowledge of internal IT departments, legal professionals and community organizations, local governments can devise body camera use procedures to prevent these costs from spiraling out of control. For example, the city of Baltimore has recently assembled a diverse task force to prepare for the widespread deployment of body cameras. These task forces can help police departments adopt operating guidelines, such as when an officer should have their camera turned on, when they should inform subjects that they are being filmed and to what extent, if at all, officers can edit footage before it is downloaded. By spending time upfront to thoroughly research and understand how body cameras can be integrated into their operations, police departments can ensure they don’t overspend when it comes to data storage for body cameras.
In addition to body camera use procedures, governments should engage members of their task force to study jurisdictional evidentiary laws and freedom of information laws. Body camera recordings are often used as evidence in a court of law and must therefore be maintained and stored in accordance with evidentiary standards. Task force members should also examine relevant freedom of information laws. For instance, police departments operating in jurisdictions with more liberal freedom of information laws may be required to share video footage with any individual who has been filmed and issues a request. Liberal freedom of information laws can increase costs by necessitating that governments store larger amounts of data for longer periods of time.
Once police departments and city governments have thoroughly investigated the costs and legal issues posed by adopting body cameras, they can begin to vet body camera suppliers. In addition to evaluating competing camera models on the basis of price and accompanying data storage plans, buyers should carefully evaluate the camera’s memory storage capacities and resolution. Cameras with higher memory storage capacities, measured in gigabytes, permit the body camera user to record and store a larger amount of video while in the field. By adopting a camera model with a higher memory storage capacity, police departments can mitigate the risk of an officer running out of memory storage while on patrol. High-resolution cameras can capture clearer and crisper digital recordings. Indeed, because video recording are commonly used as evidence in court, resolution can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
The Importance of Body Cameras
Procuring body cameras is a time-consuming task that requires the input of many stakeholders. Nonetheless, the tangible benefits body cameras provide justify these investments. A recent study by the University of South Florida demonstrated that use of force complaints against officers wearing body cameras declined by 65%. Body cameras offer local governments and police departments the opportunity to demonstrate transparency to the community, and to reduce costly litigation stemming from use-of-force incidents. With an understanding of the market and pricing dynamics for body cameras, buyers can realize these benefits while saving time and minimizing costs.