KC police plan to outfit officers with body cameras as price tag reaches $6 million

Kansas City police brass say their plan to equip hundreds of officers with body cameras as a new estimate puts initial costs at roughly $6 million.

That $6 million price tag is expected to cover the initial start-up costs, equipment upgrades, storage expenses and hiring additional workers to manage the effort and to respond open records request for the video recordings.

“It will cost millions of dollars to provide the storage, infrastructure and manpower to implement body cameras at KCPD,” Interim Police Chief David Zimmerman said. “If money were no object, they would have been implemented months ago. Moving forward, we must have discussions internally and with city officials about where body cameras fall among other funding priorities.”

Officials have not identified a sustainable funding source and said it could take three years before officers can begin wearing the recording devices. The police board must approve the use of body cameras.

“Our department was one of the early adopters of in-car camera systems, and every patrol car today has one,” Zimmerman said. “We’re moving toward body cameras for the same reasons we did in-car cameras: to ensure accountability, to identify any issues that could require training and to provide indisputable accounts of incidents.”

Police departments across the country are learning that body cameras, however useful in providing transparency, are not cheap.

Detroit decided to spend $5.2 million for a 1,500 body camera program.

The cameras themselves are not prohibitive. Depending on their sophistication, they can be purchased for a few hundred dollars to as much as $2,000.

If Kansas City purchased a midrange model for each of its 1,360 officers, the cost could reach about $1.4 million. A $400 model could cost roughly $550,000.

The department estimates it would spend $2.1 million for the initial startup equipment costs.

But those cameras generate a lot of digital information — and the digital storage costs add up.

On-site storage would cost the Kansas City police about $3.2 million for a five-year contract, police estimate, in addition to costs for information technology staff.

According to Time, larger police departments may create more than 10,000 hours of video every week. The Michigan State Police could generate 5,000 to 7,000 terabytes of information over three years if all officers wore body cameras, according to the Detroit Free Press.

All that data have to be stored somewhere. And policy decisions must be made about how long to store it. Neither Missouri nor Kansas has laws on video data storage times, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

San Diego purchased body cameras that cost between $300 and $500 but anticipates spending nearly $1,500 for data storage for each one, according to Reuters.

A Police Executive Research Forum survey indicated that 39 percent of police departments that do not use body cameras cited cost as a primary reason.

“In addition to the initial purchasing cost, agencies must devote funding and staffing resources toward storing recorded data, managing videos, disclosing copies of videos to the public, providing training to officers and administering the program,” according to a Research Forum report.

Several area law enforcement agencies, including the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Gladstone and Lenexa police, already have equipped their patrol and field officers with body cameras.

Kansas City experimented with the body cameras last summer when 50 patrol, tactical response, bike patrol and motorcycles officers participated in a 12-week study.

The effort helped police officials determine how they would store footage from the cameras and to gauge anticipated equipment needs, said Deputy Chief Bob Kuehl, who is overseeing the effort.

“The use of video, including body-worn cameras, enhances accountability and transparency for everyone,” Kuehl said.

Kansas City police have used dashboard cameras since 1999. The department has 337 in-car camera systems in use.

Kuehl said the department would use dashboard cameras to complement officers who wear body cameras.

“We philosophically support body cameras to complement our in-car cameras,” said Kuehl, who leads the department’s professional development and research bureau. “If it wasn’t for issues regarding money, manpower and materials, we would have loved to roll this out six months ago.”

Kuehl said determining how to store hours of video footage will pose a huge challenge.

During Kansas City’s pilot program, the department had an average of 147 video recordings that used roughly 82,000 megabytes of data recorded each day, according to a blog entry Zimmerman posted Friday. When the pilot period ended, about 9,300 videos and 5.1 million megabytes of data were collected.

Police officials are weighing two options that include using a cloud-based system or storing the footage in house. Both cost about the same.

Using an on-site storage system appears to be the best option, because a cloud-based system could pose security risks, Kuehl said.

The department estimates it would spend $2.2 million on annual costs for staffing and other expenses. The annual equipment maintenance cost would be around $56,000.

The department would have to create a new unit to handle open records requests, which would redact certain recordings and ensure quality assurance before the recordings are released, Kuehl said.

Expanding the information technology division would cost the department $173,000 a year to hire two additional network administrators to manage the warehoused data.

The department will look to share an expansive fiber-optic network system that will be part of the One-IT collaborative effort within Kansas City departments. It is currently under development and expected to launch within a year.

The body camera expense would come as Kansas City’s annual spending on the Police Department already tops a quarter of a billion dollars.

The police budget for the fiscal year that began May 1 is $250.8 million and does not include money for a large body-camera program. The 2017-18 budget reflects a sizable increase from the $242.5 million budget for the fiscal year that ended April 30. Much of this year’s increase was intended to cover police raises and other personnel costs.

Kansas City will look for federal grants and other funding sources to pay for the body cameras, technology upgrades and other related expenses.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 said the use of body cameras is a way to build public trust and promote transparency, but there are more pressing needs.

“At this point, the cost is the concern when we are down police officers on the streets,” said Brad Lemon, lodge president. “The city has a finite amount of money, and it’s important to balance the needs to address the serious issue of increasing violent crime and body-worn cameras.”

Lemon said the Police Department is down 130 officers over the last 10 years at a time when homicides are on the rise.

“We believe in the philosophy of a body-worn camera system, but justifying the system versus hiring police officers is a difficult balancing act,” he said. “We have several concerns including retention, usage and individual officers’ and citizens’ right to privacy.”

Kuehl said police are studying other agencies that are using body cameras to determine the best fit for Kansas City — and to learn from the mistakes of early adopters.

“We don’t want leading edge,” he said. “Cutting edge is nice but leading edge is dangerous, and a lot of them are on the leading edge right now.”

Staff writer Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC