US President Wants $75 Million for Body-Worn Cameras

By Brian Rhodes, Published Dec 02, 2014, 12:00am EST

In response to heated protests scrutinizing law enforcement behavior, the White House wants to spur adoption of body worn cameras.

With the major issue of cost stopping many LEO departments from outfitting officers, a new White House proposal pledges $75 million dollars for new cameras.

However, even with funding available, what adoption barriers are there, and just how many cameras will this proposal purchase? We take a deeper look in this note.

The Proposal

The White House announced part of its $263 million proposal to "Strengthening Community Policing" is a new federal program to fund the widespread adoption and use of law enforcement body-worn cameras. From the official White House fact sheet:

"As part of this initiative, a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to States/localities who purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. Overall, the proposed $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. "

The proposal states that $75 of the $263 million is set aside for purchasing cameras, and will be dispersed on a matching basis to those law enforcement agencies voluntarily deploying the cameras and able to raise half the cost on their own.

Not All Officers Covered

With (2008 DOJ) estimates placing around 1 million law enforcement officers in the US, the White House's proposal would be used to buy 50,000 cameras, or enough for about 5% of the total number of officers.

The officers actually equipped will likely be limited to those most likely to interact with the public on a routine basis, and could be subject to department shift-equipment sharing policies, but even then the new program will only furnish a small fraction of units to potential officers.

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Logistical Issues

As we first addressed in our Body-Worn Surveillance Overview, camera selection is just one aspect of a larger program to widely deploy the technology.

For example, policy issues about the occupational use of the cameras remain. Will officers willingly wear these units at all times, or will they be forced to? Will the wearer have any controls over when and where recording must be activated? Will data be automatically uploaded in near-real time, or must officers download collected video manually? 

The questions are not minor, and even departments eager to adopt the cameras may face months or even years of hammering out operational guidelines before deployment.

Dashcam Precedent

Policy concerns aside, cameras to record police activity are not without precedent. Indeed, police vehicle dashboard cameras are a mainstay piece of gear, with some estimates claiming up to 70% of US law enforcement vehicles having them in place. Indeed, video collected by those cameras are routinely used as evidence in court and widespread use has been positively received by both police agencies and the public alike.

We expect body worn cameras to generally be successfully received and used for the same reasons. One police officer study on body worn cameras showed major improvements.

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