The only reason we know that a North Charleston, SC police officer murdered a fleeing suspect is that this unconscionable act was captured on video. The bad news is that so many other abuses aren’t filmed. While body cameras for police aren’t by any means a panacea, they have been demonstrated to significantly reduce use of force. Why, after all the incidents in recent years, aren’t they mandatory for all police?
One of the most commonly cited issues is cost. Police budgets are tight, and the expense of not only purchasing a camera for every cop, but keeping the camera data and doing all the back-end servicing and maintenance is too much. It’s not a bad point: a typical camera runs about $400, which is actually less than the costs associated with storage and maintenance, which add around $600 per year. In other words, an extra $1000 per year, per officer. (Actually, that’s slightly inflated, as all of the cameras wouldn’t have to be replaced every year. But it’s a nice round number, so let’s stick with it.)
But that’s peanuts for the federal government. There are around 920,000 sworn officers in the United States authorized to use force, federal, state, and local. But again, just to make the numbers nice and clean, lets round up to 1 million. Outfitting them with cameras and providing the necessary storage and maintenance would cost $1 billion per year. (Though this number is surely high, as prices for mass purchases would almost certainly be lower.)
To put this in perspective, $1 billion is 0.02 percent of the 2015 federal budget. It’s less than half the cost of a single nuclear attack sub. Here’s another way to look at it: earlier this year, President Obama announced that we’d be keeping 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for another year. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that this will cost about $3.9 million per troop, per year, for a total of $38 billion. In other words, 257 fewer troops in Afghanistan means an extra $1 billion that could fund a ‘body cams for every cop’ program.
Do we care more about the security of Afghanistan than we do about American citizens? Sometimes I wonder.