The 55 body-worn cameras the Corvallis Police Department purchased 18 months ago remain on the shelf.

But officials say they’re closer to implementing the cameras for everyday use.

“This is like a live body of work,” Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said. “We’re talking about this every week.”

Haroldson said the Police Department is on the cusp of starting a pilot program with a few patrol officers.

At issue is the cost of digitally storing the videos captured by the cameras, as well as the manpower required to sort through the videos, the prosecutor said.

“By being able to do pilot programs and try cameras, it allows us to see what the impact is so we can begin to build infrastructure, which is going to be expensive, no doubt,” Haroldson said.

The Police Department bought the VieVu body cameras in June 2016 for about $30,000.

Chief Jon Sassaman said the agency purchased the cameras with savings at the end of the fiscal year.

“We were able to move forward with this at a time when we really thought that implementation was easier than it has turned out to be,” Sassaman said.

Police departments throughout the country are running into financial obstacles as they discover how much it costs to store the large quantity of data collected by the cameras.

According to a 2014 report by The Police Executive Research Forum, the cost of data storage depends on how many videos are produced, how long videos are kept and where the videos are stored. One agency purchased 50 cameras and planned to spend $111,000 over two years to store videos, according to the report. That comes to about $92.50 per month for each camera.

Sassaman still needs to decide how his department will store body camera videos.

“There is a laundry list of decisions that have to be made,” Sassaman said.

In addition to the storage costs will be the labor needed to edit and redact videos for use in the courts and for release to the public. Videos may need to be edited if evidence has been suppressed or because of privacy issues, Haroldson said. He said his office has hired a paralegal to help study the financial impacts of body cameras. Prosecutors have already received cases with body camera videos from agencies that are using cameras, Haroldson said.

The Philomath Police Department has equipped officers with cameras since 2014.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office began a trial with two body cameras in October. The cameras were provided free by Axon when the Sheriff’s Office purchased new dash cameras from the company, Sheriff Scott Jackson said.

The agency reviewed body camera policies used by various law enforcement departments and created a draft policy to govern its use of the cameras. That policy is still evolving, though.

“It gives us an opportunity to kind of work through the process, see what our protocol’s going to be, develop a policy and also gauge the workload of having cameras,” Jackson said.

As it stands, deputies are required to record all traffic stops, responses to calls and other law enforcement actions with the public, Capt. Don Rogers said. Detectives do not have to record conversations with confidential informants, he said. The department is still considering all the privacy issues at stake, including whether to record interviews with sexual assault victims.

The Sheriff’s Office has chosen to store its videos on Axon’s cloud storage platform, known as Evidence.com. From that system, the agency can send videos to other stakeholders, such as the DA’s office and defense attorneys.

The storage platform also allows the Sheriff’s Office to redact the videos, such as muting or blurring scenes, for release to the public.

The Sheriff’s Office does not yet know how much long-term storage will cost.

“The more you store the more you pay,” Rogers said. “I think after a year we’ll have a better idea of what our usual usage is.”

He said the agency is saving money from switching its in-car cameras from Digital Ally to Axon. The Digital Ally cameras were more costly, required proprietary players to view videos and were faulty and expensive to repair, Rogers said. Money saved will go toward cloud storage costs.

The Sheriff’s Office plans to get more body cameras soon and equip nine staff members with them. The agency will gradually outfit all of its deputies, reserve deputies and detectives with cameras, Rogers said. Slowing down the rollout of the program will allow for everyone, including the District Attorney’s office, to prepare for the full volume of work associated with the videos, he said.

“I think all the stakeholders agree that this is the future,” Rogers said.

Haroldson said he supports the concept of body cameras 100 percent.

“I think they’re critical for the public to appreciate the transparency of our system and to help the public have a better perspective on what our law enforcement officers are doing as they’re investigating cases,” he said.

“I believe this is something the public wants but I don’t want to mislead the public into thinking there is no cost around it,” he added.

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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