Police Body Cam Footage Costs Public $150, Officers Time

Dec 21, 2016

Body cameras at the Lafayette Police Department.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA

Earlier this year, a state law mandated that a police department could not charge more than $150 for a copy of police body camera footage. The question now: Is $150 a fair price or might it have a cooling effect on people seeking video? WBAA’s Charlotte Tuggle reports. 

Police departments across Indiana are grappling with the cost of body-worn camera technology.

Some have quit the process altogether, saying the expense is too great for their department – even if they can recoup $150 every time someone asks for footage.

At the Lafayette Police Department, Chief Pat Flannelly says preparing that video footage could tie up an officer for more than a week.

“We do have very significant concerns about the cost and what it could cost us in terms of manpower to be able to meet these requests,” Flannelly says. “And ultimately, if we even are able to meet the requests, depending on the level of demand.”

The LPD fully implemented the Taser body cam system this April. The system categorizes footage for the officers, but each minute of video must be viewed and redacted if necessary.

LPD Captain of Administrative Services Brad Bishop says one case that had multiple officers respond to a scene produced around 12 hours of video.

“If there was something in here that needed to be redacted, it would have to be redacted on each officer’s camera theoretically,” Bishop says. “So, you’re probably looking at a week, week and a half, 10 - 14 days’ worth of work.”

We wanted to know how long the process would take a skilled video editor.

So we went to see Indiana Motion Pictures owner Gary Higgins, who edits video for a living. He owns a body camera and offered to record video of me entering his home studio and then redact my face from it. He says it could take up to an hour to remove a face from the 18 seconds of video he shot.

Higgins created a rough redaction shape to lay over the video.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA

“For each second, for your audience, there’s 30 still pictures a second for moving video,” he says. “So, that means there’s 30 different places each second that your face could be visible.”

He says a process such as covering a minor’s face in a video, especially in footage from a moving camera that may be in bad lighting, can be painstaking, because he’s not aware of software that can identify a face, find it in each frame of sometimes erratic video like that often shot by body cameras, and then hide it.

Higgins says there’s also the cost of equipment to consider, such as storage and software. The LPD stores anywhere from 21 to 24 terabytes of video at one time in its system.

When the law setting the cost was signed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana released a statement calling the law beneficial to both police departments and the public.

But, their concerns included the high cost of a copy and the lack of regulation over how much video editing could be carried out by an officer.

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar says whether the cost is too burdensome lies in the details, such as whether a citizen is expected to shoulder the full cost.

“If it’s a matter of repeated costs, depending on how police departments implement it, it could turn into a barrier to the transparency and accountability benefit of video footage,” she says.

Henegar says the goal is to set a reasonable cost.

And Northern Illinois University’s Kirk Miller, who heads the college’s sociology department and researches police decision-making, says he thinks it may not be that expensive forever.

“While the $150 seems like an impediment and seems sort of out of line from a citizen’s standpoint, I suspect that over time, that number either will come down – that some agencies will figure out ways to charge less,” Miller says.

As for the editing concern, the Tippecanoe County prosecutor’s office mandates how much the video can be edited.

Capt. Brad Bishop says it's an LPD requirement for every officer to have their body cam recording while on duty.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA

Lafayette Police Chief Pat Flannelly has no plans to drop the body camera technology because it’s helping prosecute criminals.

“We want to be able to have this information and be able to show it to people in the appropriate circumstances,” Flannelly says. “It’s amazing the type of evidence that we can now present in criminal cases.”

Through the first six months the law has been in place, requests for LPD body camera footage have been filed for traffic stops and civil case investigations.