ITHACA, N.Y. — Added together, the total cost of the Ithaca police body cameras to the city is at least $192,000 — for the first five years they’re in use.
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That’s according to City Attorney Ari Lavine, who spoke about the police body cameras policy at City Hall on Wednesday night.
The cost of the cameras for year one is $74,200, Lavine said. $20,000 of that will be covered by an anonymous donor, but the costs continue into further years — particularly for storage of record videos, according to Lavine. For years two through five, the cost of the cameras is $29,317 per year.
“So it’s not cheap,” Lavine said.
Council member Stephen Smith, who represents Ithaca’s Fourth Ward, asked about potentially cheaper ways to store the data. Lavine said that wouldn’t be possible, saying that Ithaca will be using Amazon’s service, which Lavine says provides “high quality” cloud infrastructure and security at a low cost.
“It’s a tremendous volume of data we’re talking about,” Lavine said, rejecting the possibility that Ithaca could itself set up the infrastructure to store the video cameras’ recordings. “When you actually account for the costs of buying and running the servers … the cost actually came out worse.”
“We think we picked the highest quality program at the lowest possible price.”
An effective solution — at what cost?
Body cameras for officers have emerged as a solution nationwide to improve police accountability and effectiveness. The plan for Ithaca enjoys strong backing from both Mayor Svante Myrick and Police Chief John Barber, as well as members of Ithaca’s Common Council and its Community Police Board.
A story in the Wall Street Journal noted that use of force by officers declined by 60 percent after body cameras were implemented. Vox recently argued that “recording can remind the public that cops often do dangerous and heroic things” — a likely benefit in Ithaca as well, given that under the draft policy every officer will be required to wear a camera at the beginning of his or her shift.
See related: Ithaca police body cameras: What’s in the protocol?
But worries have also surfaced about their costs — both nationally and, at least Wednesday night at City Hall, locally. (President Barack Obama announced a $75-million plan to fund the purchases of 50,000 body cameras — but, Reuters reported, Congressional inaction has put the proposal in limbo.)
Council member Seph Murtagh, who represents Ithaca’s Second Ward, said that he believes in the body cameras program and says it should be implemented. (He noted that body cameras have been shown to reduce “use of force” incidents and increased accountability among local police.)
But, Murtagh added: “I do have some concerns about the budget.”
In particular, Murtagh said he was concerned about staffing time would tax the city payrolls — particularly in terms of complying with Freedom of Information requests for records of the videos.
Chief John Barber and city attorney Lavine recognized those fears as legitimate.
“You raise a very real concern,” Barber said in response to Murtagh, noting that he expects the Ithaca police administrative sergeant to now spend 50 percent of her duties “directed to this.”
“We’ll take a look at the numbers … I may very well come back to you with an increased budget request.”
Lavine, the city attorney, also recognized a “very real” staffing impact from the policy.
Of the city attorney’s office, the city’s office of public information and technology and the Ithaca Police Department — all three “are going to feel a very real staffing crunch as a result of this,” Lavine said.