Quantifying, justifying cost of body-worn cameras

By Valarie Findlay
Research Fellow, Police Foundation

Body-worn camera equipment and infrastructure, program development and implementation are by no means cheap. Assessing their cost-benefit and return on investment is not only crucial but straightforward and easy — if you’re doing it wrong. And you don’t want to do it wrong.

Justifying a multi-million dollar expenditure when policing budgets are hard fought for and stretched thin can be a tricky proposition. With many organizations pulling back after implementing BWC pilots, mostly due to high storage and maintenance costs, justification has become more important, with higher accountability and scrutiny. With conceptual costing and actual costing often having different price tags, ad hoc implementation that lacks costing, analysis and planning is no longer acceptable.

There is no getting around that fact that BWC programs will eat up budgets and resources — first in the upfront program planning and design, then in equipping, implementing and training, and then even more in the support and maintenance of the program. And in a matter of time, that same program drains even more budget when it needs to be renewed and updated, replacing obsolete technology, addressing storage capacity issues and costs, and revisiting program objectives and implementing lessons learned.

…Instead of focusing on return on investment, assessing cost versus benefits over the long term puts the focus on hard-to-quantify benefits, such community relationships and communication.

Even the smallest of BWC programs have recognized that BWCs on their own are nothing without a well-designed program that meets key strategic and organizational objectives. Defining objectives, planning how will they be met, and establishing success criteria are the foundation of a solid cost-benefit (qualitative and quantitative) analysis of the proposed program.

Cost-benefit analysis as a planning activity makes complete sense and is time well spent, although it has its challenges.

But are we fooling ourselves by expecting returns on investment with BWC technology and BWC programs? This is the issue: return on investment looks at the actual and projected returns — or payback over a period of time — from whatever will be implemented. While BWC programs can offset costs to other organizational programs, its not likely to put them in the black.

It’s more of a shell-game — but a very important one. BWC technology stands to completely transform an important behavioral aspect of policing and enhance much-needed capabilities in training and intelligence. For that reason, programs must be viable, measurable and controlled to evolve the technology in policing programs and develop best practices for later adopters.

Pound Wise, Penny Foolish

In reality, BWC programs should be viewed as a capital cost, a necessity in delivering a project to a commercially operable state, that transitions to an operating cost that requires maintenance resources and revitalization. Unfortunately, BWC equipment only stands to depreciate or become obsolete and the program – its framework, policies, procedures, etc. – will draw resources on an ongoing basis.

BWC programs are not going to move other programmatic efforts out of the red and into the black, or free up capital to support new initiatives.

So instead of focusing on return on investment, assessing cost versus benefits over the long term puts the focus on hard-to-quantify benefits, such community relationships and communication.

One way of doing this is by designing BWC programs to be portable, with the ability to be rolled out horizontally to other programs; not only does this maximize budget, it provides focus on the realization of organizational objectives and a tighter target on specific laterals, such as intelligence gathering and training.

Plan Before You Build … Or Buy

A BWC program should be designed to meet long-term objectives, and the department should ensure it remain aligned with the organizational strategy, serve to extend its relevancy and reduce future costs in re-design and retrofitting.

By viewing BWC programs as capital or operational costs, two concepts can be appreciated:

1) The program’s value is in its processes that enable procedures to solve the organizational problem(s) with the technology;

2) The technology is independent of those program processes — it’s a result of them — and allows for agility and scalability.

Instituting this when designing a BWC program allows it to begin as technology-agnostic, relying on operational requirements to drive design, leaving the technology as the procedural solution. This is where specific functions and features are identified.

With that, it makes sense that the first question an organization asks is, what are the organizational problems that the BWC program is solving? Reduced litigation costs, misconduct or training issues, improved evidence or clearance rates in a particular crime category? It can be one or many, keeping in mind programs can be developed and implemented in phases, which is actually beneficial as it lends to scalability.  

Entrenching a BWC program as a long-term conceptual solution to organizational requirements and focusing the technology and equipment on meeting operational and functional requirements to acquire specific information becomes the ideal. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to revisit the strategic value of the program and make enhancement or adjustments, but it sets a foundation to keep the program in line with the organizational objectives.

In the future BWC programs will likely become so operationalized that they will form new, modify existing or merge with emerging technologies, systems (records management, intelligence systems, etc.), CI and other training, community outreach programs and other internal systems.

 
Valarie Findlay is an IACP and CACP eCrimes Committee member and research fellow for the Police Foundation, with two decades of expertise in cyber security and technology initiatives. She holds a master’s degree in terrorism studies from the University of St. Andrew’s. She also writes often for various security and law enforcement magazines on the organizational aspects of law enforcement and their impact on society, and on strategic initiatives in cyber security.

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