In the wake of a fatal shooting, Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to accept a gift of 150 body cameras from suppliers to begin outfitting officers of the state Department of Public Safety.
But the free cameras could come with some expensive strings as it could financially wed the state to the donor companies who would be either doing the storage or providing that equipment to download the daily videos, all of which is a separate cost.
Ducey’s request is not new. In fact, the governor asked for $3 million in January to equip all DPS officers with body cameras and another $2 million to hire 20 people to download and store all the videos. That was for just the current budget year.
That request went nowhere as state lawmakers wrapped up the session early as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.
But the issue gained new life in May after DPS Trooper George Cervantes shot and killed a 28-year-old man along a stretch of Loop 101 in northeast Phoenix.
Dion Johnson had fallen asleep in his vehicle parked in a “gore point” of an entrance ramp. Phoenix police, who investigated the incident, said the trooper said there was a struggle and the officer shot Johnson.
Last week Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel declined to file charges against the trooper, noting that neither the trooper who shot Johnson nor another officer who responded had body cameras. But at the same time she urged the use of body cameras by all police.
“I can’t speculate whether body-worn cameras would have changed this or not,” she said.
“But I can say it would have been useful to at least have the information in making a decision as serious as this.”
Adel, a Republican like Ducey, praised the governor for “this initial step” of getting body cameras for DPS officers.
But Adel, who is trying to hang onto the seat in November to which she was appointed earlier this year, said that’s only a beginning. She said she wants lawmakers to provide the funds for similar equipment statewide.
Despite the announcement from Ducey, his press aide refused to disclose which company or companies are providing the equipment. More to the point, Patrick Ptak would not provide information about any conditions tied to the free equipment, like the state having to pay the suppliers for storage and maintenance costs, and whether there are long-term financial obligations.
There also was no answer to the question of whether equipping some DPS officers with cameras from a given company effectively means future purchase will have to be made from the same firm to ensure compatibility in storing all the video.
DPS was no more helpful.
“More information regarding the vendors and conditions and timeline will be made available as contracts are finalized,” said agency spokesman Bart Graves.
The question of costs down the road is not inconsequential.
A 2018 report done by the Police Executive Research Forum looked at three cities that had deployed these cameras, including Mesa and Phoenix.
At the time the report said Mesa police had 330 cameras, enough for 44 percent of its personnel. And the cost of the cameras was $120 each.
But the study also said the costs of maintenance and data storage are bundled together for a per-camera cost of $1,147. And on top of that there is another $931 per camera in costs of administrative staff to fulfill public records requests.
Phoenix police reported bundled costs of $1,206 per camera. But adding staff for public records requests, tech staffing and everything brings the total annual cost to $2,883.
Separately, Police.com said the Spokane, Wash. police department was spending $310,000 every year to use and store the video footage of its 271 cameras — nearly 2.1 terabytes of video every 30 days — in the cloud storage of AXON, one of the larger sellers of these cameras. And a police spokesman said his agency has agreed to pay the company $1.5 million for five years of video storage, from 2017 to 2021.
DPS figures it has close to 700 patrol officers, meaning this initial deployment, when it comes, will cover only about one out of every five troopers who are out dealing with the public.
There are, however, 122 patrol cars which already are outfitted with dash cameras.
The governor’s office said it is his intent to ask lawmakers to provide cash for the balance.
Ducey is a relative latecomer to the issue of body cameras.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, introduced a proposal in 2015 to require all police to be equipped with the devices. It never got a hearing in the Republican-controlled legislature.