In the wake of controversial and high profile police activity, there have been numerous reports that police departments across the country have stepped up calls for body worn cameras (BWCs). The police in the City of Ferguson in Missouri started wearing BWCs three weeks after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014, when vendors Safety Vision and Digital Ally donated about 50 body cameras to the department. Other cities that are accelerating efforts to outfit patrol officers include Sacramento, CA, New York, NY and smaller counties such as Bastrop County near Austin in Texas.
Onvia has a large database of procurement activity and spending plans from more than 80,000 entities in the U.S. Onvia first reported on BWCs in May 2014 but with the recent events, we decided to take another look into body camera procurement trends. Onvia’s Purchase Order Analytics indicates that there was increased activity in 2014 for BWC purchases. Our research found over 3,400 purchase orders for BWCs and related services made in 2014 as opposed to 533 purchase orders in 2013. More than 53% of the purchases we found were made since July 2014.
Three manufacturers, Taser International, Digital Ally and private company VieVu LLC tend to dominate the BWC market. However, vendors like Pro-Vision Video, Wolfcom and Safety Vision are also making strides in the public sector.
Examples of recently awarded large contracts from Onvia’s Project Center include the City of Livermore in California that awarded Taser International in November 2014 with a five-year term contract worth $279,000 to provide Taser Axon Flex BWCs and one year of Evidence.Com online storage services for BWCs and online data storage services. In the same month, Taser International also won a five-year term contract worth $501,294 from the City of Chula Vista in California for 114 BWCs, docking stations, cloud-based storage of digital video evidence, and support services to assist with implementation, training and data management.
In these still relatively early days of body worn cameras, there are some basic concerns about the effectiveness of the cameras, privacy implications, poor battery life, video storage and if officers remember to turn them on. Vendors should know that most agencies that address these concerns in the RFPs will expect samples and/or demonstrations of the BWCs during the bidding process. Bidding vendors will find very specific system requirements as they apply to capturing video and audio, data storage, usability features, security features, environmental durability, battery, connectivity, accessories, warranties and implementation. Examples of these details in recent bids include the Collin County Community College District in McKinney TX RFP Specifications for 30 BWCs, the Volusia County in Florida RFP Specifications for 180 BWCs and the City of Portland in Oregon RFP Specifications for 600 BWCs.
Looking ahead to the future, Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center revealed increasing activity mainly by local governments to purchase BWCs for law enforcement in the next five years. There is a common theme in nearly all plans and budgets that speak of transparency, accountability, liability and that BWCs will improve relations with citizens and reduce departmental costs.
Examples include the FY 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan published in September 2014 for the City of Pasadena in California. The city agency has a $200,000 project scheduled to purchase approximately 200 BWCs for police working in the field and in the jail. The project description says that BWCs are “a necessary component of today's police work. Body worn cameras capture audio and video evidence of incidents involving police personnel interacting with citizens/suspects. This evidence is crucial when responding to complaints, avoids litigation from false complaints and/or frivolous lawsuits mitigating costs and risk to the City. Recording of critical incidents also provides for more accurate review and analysis for improved training for Department personnel and improved service to the City.”
The FY 2014-2015 Capital Improvement Plan for the Town of Garner in North Carolina adopted in October 2014 includes funding a $30,000 project in 2016 for BWCs for all first responder staff. The project description says that “BWCs can document interactions with victims, witnesses, and others during police/citizen encounters, at crime and incident scenes, and during traffic stops. In many instances police agencies have found the BWC useful for officers in the favorable resolution of both administrative and criminal complaints and as a defense resource in cases of civil liability. Officers using these recorders have a clearly documented, firsthand, completely objective account of what was said during an incident in question.”
And the list goes on: The adopted 2015 budget published in October 2014 for the City of Milton in Georgia includes $23,153 for BWCs to all sworn personnel will serve two purposes: BWCs will help to accurately document officer/citizen encounters providing additional evidence and BWCs will reduce both use of force incidents and citizen complaints on officers
The 2015 proposed budget published in November 2014 for the City of Denver in Colorado includes $796,100 to invest in “enhancing the accountability of our police force through the deployment of officer-worn body cameras … Body cameras provide a record of an officer's encounters with the public, both to support criminal allegations and refute potential use-of-force complaints. The use of body cameras should lead to a decrease in complaints, decrease in use of force, and improve transparency.”
There is concern that even with full video coverage police will still not be held accountable for their actions, as in the November 24, 2014 grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY on July 17, 2014. However, the general consensus recently is that the problem of accurate accountability is a result of other lapses in the system, not the videos themselves and when working properly, wearing cameras is associated with a dramatic reduction in use-of-force and complaints against officers. In the City of Cleveland in Ohio, where a police officer shot 12-year old Tamir Rice who was holding a toy gun on November 22, 2014, the city agency also has a current bid open requesting 1500 body worn cameras. The RFP says that BWCs for law enforcement “is not a new trend but a technology shift” and that BWCs “enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement while promoting professional accountability and aiding in event documentation.” The RFP also says that BWCs will cover a wide spectrum of police operations with critical incident documentation that an in-car camera system cannot capture. Once implemented, this project may help counter the Justice Department’s two-year civil rights investigation results that cited the Cleveland Police with abuse, finding a pattern of “unreasonable and excessive use of force.”
The increasing importance to have full transparency of police interactions with citizens aims to mitigate the enormous problem of questionable accountability on both sides. In November 2014, the first full scientific study conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology concluded that BWCs do decrease police use of force. In conjunction, BWCs are reported to reduce false accusations and reduce litigation costs. It seems more important than ever to record police activity in order to take the appropriate post-incident steps: On December 1, 2014, President Obama proposed that over the next three years $75 million in federal funds be allocated for BWCs. Onvia’s database of state and local contracting opportunities highlights law enforcement entities that have purchased BWCs in the past, those that are actively seeking proposals for BWCs as well as those that have budgeted for purchases of BWCs based on capital improvement plans and technology budgets. Onvia’s suite of business intelligence tools shows clear evidence that BWCs will be a major tool for law enforcement in 2015 and beyond.