US State Spending on Video Surveillance

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Mar 07, 2014

Since 9/11, billions of dollars have flowed from the federal government to states in the form of grants for security equipment. Other than occasional news reports it was hard to track down how all that money is being spent. The Center For Investigative Reporting has an ongoing project [link no longer available] that obtains the documents that show exactly where these dollars are going. Among other things they show how much states are spending on surveillance. For this update, we show you how to navigate the docs to see what your state or county spent on surveillance.

Audits

When agencies receive federal grants they are audited to document how the funds were used, if there were used in compliance with the grant guidelines and if they were used effectively. The results of these audits become public records that can be obtained using opens records requests. However, it would be a tedious process for an individual this for every state and county. In this case the Center For Investigative Reporting compiled this information for the public to look at.

The CIR project is available here [link no longer available]and looks like this:

Selecting a state shows what documents are available for that state and what agency is responsible for coordinating its grants.

Whats in the Documents

How much detail is in the documents depends on the jurisdiction, but they provide insight into how much is spent on surveillance systems, compared to how much is spent on security overall. Some are more vague like the excerpt below from Los Angeles County:


Or like Florida, which redacted the actual items purchased [link no longer available], leaving only the vendor name and how much was spent:

But others provide a little more detail like part numbers or equipment models. This entry from Texas from 2005 shows agencies were still buying VCRs. Austin County paid $4450 for a "PC-126EX weatherproof color dual CCD Infrared Video Camera, a PC219 high resolution 5-50mm Weatherproof Color Camera, PVX9 Law Enforcement 3W Video Link, VCR960-12 Time Lapse VCR, interconnect cabling, Power Adapter and Hard Case w/wheels."

The City of Boeme paid just over $6,000 for a single PTZ, a power supply,"40 Gig Digital Video Recorder," and "necessary hardware/conduit/etc."


Analysis

The value of the documents comes from being able to see what your county or state is spending on surveillance. Even though in many cases the information on these audits isn’t complete, it can be a good starting point to send a more pointed public records request for the details of an individual project. For example, knowing that Austin County spent $4450 on surveillance equipment is enough to send a request to the county on the details of the contract.

The documents also provide a look at what agencies are doing with their security budgets. For some the trend is biometrics, for others its preparedness (many grants are “preparedness” grants) and some focus more on training than technology. Use these documents to find out where video surveillance fits into the priorities of your local government.

Keep in mind that these documents don’t show the whole picture of what jurisdictions are spending on surveillance for two reasons: These latest data is not yet available for the past few years, however audits are ongoing.

Also, this data is showing expenditures of money that comes from grants awarded by the federal government, which was flowing freely after 9/11. Jurisdictions are still using their own budgets or local funds for surveillance equipment as well, but many are more likely to buy when they can get federal money to do so.

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