Inside LAPD’s body camera contract with Taser International

Taser's Axon Body camera.
Taser’s Axon Body camera.

The Los Angeles Police Department is rolling out the first of 860 body cameras for its officers, part of a plan that will eventually have some 7,000 officers routinely wearing chest-mounted video cameras.

The cameras are made by Taser International, which won the LAPD contract last year.

As the second largest police department in the country, implementation of body cameras at the LAPD is raising a lot of eyebrows and a lot of questions, including: where will all the new video data be stored, and who will be able to see it and how will it be used?

We have some answers for you.

How LAPD Police Cameras Will Work

The $1.5 million that LAPD paid for the 860 basic Taser cameras also included five years of storage on a cloud-based server operated by Evidence.com, a division of Scottsdale, Ariz., based Taser, according to Steven Soboroff, the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, an oversight panel.

The cameras include a built-in flash drive that can hold hours of video, recorded at 480p, a sub-HD rate, a spokesman for Taser, Steve Tuttle, said in a phone interview. The cameras begin recording after an officer double clicks the camera face and automatically add on 30 seconds of video previous to the officer starting the camera, he said.

“Maybe you ran a red light, but I didn’t miss that because I double click the camera and it buffers back 30 seconds,” Tuttle said, describing how an officer might use the camera.

How the Storage System Works

Evidence.com, a startup-like venture that Taser launched in 2009, is based in Seattle. Company clients like the LAPD will be able to store not only video files from the body cameras but also other digital files related to police investigations, like audio clips, documents, and closed-circuit video from a crime scene, Tuttle said.

That data will be managed solely by administrators designated by the LAPD, Tuttle said. Once an officer’s body camera video is uploaded to the cloud, authorized LAPD administrators will be able to tag the videos with keywords indicating, say, geographic locations or types of crimes.

“It becomes their property, they manage it, they share it, they redact it, they determine what data to take into the courtroom,” Tuttle said.

Other features of the body camera storage system: LAPD officials can set expiration dates, Tuttle said, after which a video is automatically deleted from storage. The system also automatically records every instance of a video being viewed by every user, so there will be a clear record of which files are seen by whom, Tuttle said.

The Cost of Police Video Storage

Some basic math suggests the LAPD got a meaty discount on the retail video-storage prices shown on Evidence.com’s website. Instead of paying the list price of $99 per month per officer to store video and other evidentiary files, the LAPD is getting that service for free, department and company officials said.

The department’s deal with Taser includes free maintenance and two camera upgrades, in the third and fifth year of the contract, Tuttle said.

Instead of paying the list price of $399 for Taser’s Axon camera and $99/month per officer, which for 860 cameras would retail at $6.8 million, according to Evidence.com’s online pricing, the LAPD paid only $1.5 million, which was raised entirely through private donors, Soboroff said.