Tuesday, April 12, 2016

State data solution makes most financial sense for agencies deploying bodycams

Sometimes, "big government" solutions make the most sense.

Taser International's body-camera data processing service, Evidence.com, may cost twice as much as the state plans to charge local agencies for the same service through the Department of Information Resources.

The El Paso Times (April 11) reported the most I've seen about Taser's cost structure for its body camera service. Here are the details of a contract the commissioners court in El Paso is considering:
The company offers 397 tasers, 250 body cameras, and a five-year contract for data storage that will hold the body-camera videos, taser videos, the sheriff’s in-car videos, and any interview camera videos that the department collects in criminal investigations, all for $1.7 million. The amount includes $331,000 a year for video storage.
So, $1,655,000 of the $1.7 million in Taser's proposed body camera contract would go for information services, not equipment. If the cost for data management is $331,000 per year for 250 cameras, that's comes out to about $1,324 per unit per year. (The county will delay approval of the contract so they consider it during their regular budgeting process over the summer.)

There is, however, a less expensive option. Dale Richardson of the state Department of Information Resources, told a legislative committee recently that his agency plans to leverage the state's two data centers to provide video storage services for bodycams and other law-enforcement video. They're creating  a "vendor agnostic" platform which would allow sharing data across agencies. Local departments would have a device on site where video footage from body cameras and dash cameras could be uploaded. DIR would store the video, back it up, and supply the necessary information management tools to make the data useful.

Richardson told the committee the program would be subscription-based and cost about $50 per bodycam per month, or $600 per year, so less than half the amount Taser has offered. Admittedly, the proposed El Paso contract also includes storage of additional video (which the DIR can also support), but the Taser-and-interrogation videos will take up de minimis space, and dashcam footage isn't nearly as voluminous as bodycams. Most of that cost is for the bodycam service.

What's more, because they're not a profit making entity, the more agencies which sign up with DIR for this service, the cheaper it could become thanks to economies of scale.

Bottom line, as Grits reported recently based on an analysis of the company's SEC documents, Taser treats bodycams as a loss leader, expecting to make its profits off of long-term data contracts like the one being considered in El Paso. But local agencies might be better served financially by only paying the company for equipment and using the Department of Information Resources' service to manage bodycam video.

To be sure, DIR's role as a repository won't answer every extant question about bodycam data. The agency needs polices to prevent video from being automatically shared with state fusion centers and to keep facial recognition tools from being used to generate large-scale databases about police interactions with the public beyond the video itself. Most people who cops talk to aren't criminals and their privacy should be respected. OTOH, those questions haven't been answered with respect to Taser either, although the company is gaining data storage contracts with many jurisdictions nationwide. It may be easier to regulate data sharing if all the sharing happens through a state agency and is subject to public oversight.


  1. Taser offers a piece of script that will link the video data to the dispatcher's call for service. This is a valuable tool when trying to connect all the videos on a call to the exact call.

  2. @8:33: Is there some reason only they can do that?

    Any system, including the one the state rolls out, must include a timestamp/indexing protocol in the underlying code for the video to be of any use at all. There are several ways to skin that cat (caveat). I bet they've got that covered.

    When Richardson spoke at committee, DIR's system wasn't finished yet. When it rolls out, perhaps we can compare the specs in a side-by-side.

  3. Can any good thing come out of or stay in Texas?