Police departments across the Twin Cities metro area are looking into outfitting their officers with body cameras.
But first they need to figure out how to pay for them.
Some departments use grants, assets seized during drug arrests or operational budgets. For others, the price tag often is too steep.
Demand for body cameras likely will increase now that Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a law clarifying what body camera footage must be released to the public and what can be kept private. Some departments had been holding off until that question was resolved.
Some metro-area departments are turning to federal funding. The Shakopee Police Department has requested a $60,000 federal matching grant that would fund 40 cameras and 10 weekly hours of recording work across a three-year period.
The same program, in its first round, awarded the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments a combined $1.5 million last year.
“We thought we’d throw our hat in the ring,” Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate said. “Especially now with the bill the governor just signed, we’re ultimately exploring other funding options, too. … Really, it got even more competitive in Minnesota for these dollars.”
Other departments are looking at body camera programs but deciding the dollars aren’t available.
“We certainly have thought about it, but I’d say our biggest reason is there’s no money,” said Prior Lake Police Chief Mark Elliott.
Thirty-nine percent of U.S. departments cited cost as a primary obstacle for implementing body camera programs in a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum. Cameras can cost between $300 and $800 per officer.
Once a program is rolling, however, the expenses don’t stop.
Departments must decide on camera providers, storage options and protocols for data requests — which require labor to process and distribute.
After the initial purchase of technology, retaining video is a continuing cost. Proponents of body cameras’ cost-effectiveness argue that they reduce lawsuits and streamline evidence processing.
The Burnsville Police Department was the first in the state to use body cameras in 2010. The department spent $20,000 that year from the city’s technology budget. The annual storage costs for a supply that grew from half a dozen to 55 cameras is $56,000, according to Police Chief Eric Gieseke.
“Once the City Council realized the value, they started to support it annually,” he said.
Other metro cities followed, including Columbia Heights and Spring Lake Park. Smaller communities, including Belle Plaine and Elko New Market, also have introduced the programs for their departments, so they field fewer data requests.
“We don’t have the big money shots. A lot of the stuff we do on the day-to-day is not that interesting,” Gieseke said.
In Belle Plaine, Chief Tom Stolee pitched the idea of using seized assets for the roughly $15,000 cost of 15 cameras, one for each officer, in March 2014.
“I wanted to take it out of our forfeiture funds,” Stolee said. “We were not going to put it up to the citizens.”
The annual costs have been considerably less, Stolee said, but he couldn’t give an exact figure.
“It was a way, way new concept when we jumped on,” he said. “Our video requests have been very minimal.”
Last year, the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance received 285 grant applications from 42 states, ultimately granting 73 awards, including some in the Twin Cities area, to purchase officer-worn cameras. The next round of awardees will be announced this fall.
“We realize this is inevitable. Quite frankly, we have officers who want to wear them — I think it will be beneficial for everybody,” Tate said.