The Show on KJZZ

Donated Body Cameras Come With Hidden Costs And Challenges For Arizona DPS

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 2:41pm
Updated: Friday, October 2, 2020 - 8:09am
Audio icon Download mp3 (6.6 MB)

MARK BRODIE: Gov. Doug Ducey announced [Sept. 30] the state will accept a gift of 150 body-worn cameras for state troopers with the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The cameras are from private providers, which the Governor's Office would not disclose. Ducey has previously requested funding to outfit troopers with bodycams, a request that gained renewed attention this year after 28-year-old Dion Johnson was shot and killed by a trooper. The officer, George Cervantes, was not wearing a bodycam, nor was his DPS motorcycle outfitted with a dashcam. And while this gift may mark an easy win — one with bipartisan support — questions around cost and efficacy remain. Michael White is a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU and the definitive expert on body-worn cameras. He joins us now to talk more about this. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL WHITE: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

BRODIE: Thank you for being here. So, how significant is this — 150 body cameras? The Governor's Office has said that it will continue to push for funding all DPS officers in the new budget year. How big of a deal is this 150 to start?

WHITE: I think it's a really good start. There are lots of questions. Certainly one of the questions I have is how the ongoing costs will be addressed. You know, at this point, getting the cameras up front, the hardware is relatively inexpensive. The real cost comes on the backend in terms of maintaining all the video and audio that has to be stored and stored securely. And then also the resources and manpower, if you will, to manage the project ongoing. So those are two questions I would have.

BRODIE: Well, that seems to be one of the issues that some folks have raised with the fact that we don't know yet who is providing the cameras, because, as you say, it's not like you buy a camera and that's the end of it. It's an upfront cost. You have storage, you have maintenance, you have all sorts of other costs. And there seem to be concerns about whether or not whoever is providing these cameras initially might be in a better position to get some of those other contracts down the road. Is that, do you think, a legitimate concern?

WHITE: I'm not overly concerned about the donation of cameras. I think there'll be a competitive procurement process that will determine which vendor — body-worn camera maker — gets the, the the full contract and then who's going to provide the data storage. So I'm not overly concerned about that. You know, that's happened in the past with other departments. I think the [Los Angeles Police Department] LAPD started their program also with a private donation. So as long as the process to select the vendor is open and transparent and follows normal state guidelines, I think that that's just fine.

BRODIE: What in your mind is the best way to roll this out? I mean, 150 cameras, as you say, is a good start, but DPS clearly has many more officers than that. So like, what would be a good distribution? Where would you like to see these cameras to start out?

WHITE: I think one important point to keep in mind is that many very large police departments have started their body-worn camera programs the same exact way — with just a small number of cameras in a certain area. So Phoenix, for example, when they started a program back in 2013, they just deployed 50 or so cameras to the Maryvale precinct. So I think that this kind of approach is almost optimal because it allows you to start small, address all of the challenges as they come up and kind of troubleshoot along the way. I would recommend just given the infrastructure that's required, that they not be kind of spread out across the entire state. Pick one particular area, deploy the majority of the cameras in that area, and as they kind of get the the hang of things and they address the technical and other issues that are going to arise, then they can begin the expansion statewide.

BRODIE: Would you have a preference in terms of which area the state would pick — or which area DPS would pick — to sort of concentrate the beginning of the rollout?

WHITE: But I mean, the purpose of the cameras are to capture interactions between troopers and citizens. So I would focus on the areas where those encounters are most common.

BRODIE: All right. We'll leave it there. That is Michael White, professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, talking about body-worn cameras coming to the Department of Public Safety. Professor White, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

WHITE: OK, thank you. Take care. 

More Stories From KJZZ

BusinessPoliticsThe Show