The business of body cameras: 5 keys for procurement
From crafting policy to conducting a robust tech evaluation, here are some keys to success
This feature is part of Correction1's "2023 guide to body-worn cameras." Download the complete report here.
Starting a body-worn camera (BWC) program is a massive undertaking; facilities must craft policy, foster personnel buy-in, revamp their tech infrastructure, consider adding specialized staff and more.
Luckily, if you have yet to add bodycams, you have the benefit of avoiding some of the pitfalls of early adopters. Despite proliferating at a break-neck speed, believe it or not, body cameras aren’t a new technology anymore! There is a ton of research and learned experience out there to help your facility along on its journey.
Christian Quinn, who spent 24 years at the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia, led the agency’s body-worn camera procurement process and now serves as a technology consultant to share his expertise with others in need.
Here are five keys based on Quinn’s experience with a BWC procurement process.
1. POLICY COMES FIRST
Before your facility even begins the process of shopping around, legal requirements and policy should come first because they will be among the biggest factors in your assessment. When officers turn on their camera, how often the camera will be on, and video retention requirements will all have a significant impact on storage cost considerations, for example.
Also map out how BWC footage will be reviewed after an incident. If you plan to be reviewing footage consistently, you might look for features that allow you to view in fast forward, or you might just have to budget for more staff time to watch BWC footage.
2. DETERMINE WHAT’S IMPORTANT FOR YOUR FACILITY
One of the most critical components to having a legitimate and defensible procurement plan is setting up a scoring system that is customized to your specific facility’s needs. Procuring the "right" bodycam technology is not one-size-fits-all, but the literature available offers insights to facilities of all sizes, budgets, policies and other aspects. Consider reaching out to a facility of a similar size/budget and see what they did, then identify what's most important to you.
Determine how will you weigh things like:
- Device capability: Consider battery life, durability, ease of use
- Storage: Consider security, redundancy, compatibility with existing systems
- Software/platform: Consider redaction capabilities, audit trails, compatibility with other digital media, intuitive user interface, customization options
In addition, it is important to ask these questions about vendor services and tech support:
- How much of a partner is the vendor?
- Do they offer 24/7, ongoing support?
- Do they provide cloud storage or are they strictly on-premises?
- Are they helping with the initial implementation and addressing any integration challenges?
- Will they train your trainers?
3. PERSONALIZE YOUR RFP
Once you’re ready to evaluate BWC tech, it’s time to reach out to vendors. The best way to do this is with a formalized request for proposal (RFP) that details specifically what you’re looking for, the scope of the work and the technical requirements. There are a ton of vendors out there; providing as much detail as you can in your RFP helps narrow down potential candidates so you’re not wasting your time demoing vendors with products that don’t suit your needs. You want to give the vendor a clear understanding of what your facility is looking for and the criteria you’re going to grade them on; this often results in more personalized responses from vendors instead of less-useful canned responses.
“If you're looking for something specific or you have particular needs, the more thorough you are on the front end, the better,” Quinn said.
4. ESTABLISH ADVISORY COMMITTEES
When it comes to successfully interviewing the vendors and effectively evaluating the tech, it’s vital to establish a Technical Advisory Committee and a Selection Committee.
"For the Selection Committee, at the very least, you want end-users – the people who are going to be wearing the camera and using the back-end solution,” Quinn said. “You also want somebody who has some nexus to IT or is going to have administrative responsibilities associated with the program, as well as other stakeholders who may have operational program management duties.
“Ideally, you’ll want to have a Technical Advisory Committee; these are the folks who are going to ask complicated technical questions that the end-users would not ask. Things like: 'Is there a specific browser we need to be on when we access your system?’ ‘What cyber security parameters are there around the program?’ ‘What's the network architecture of a program like this and how does this sync up with what we currently have?’ Now, your Technical Advisory Committee doesn't necessarily weigh in on final decisions, but at the very least, they are there throughout the process, from start to finish, to serve as a resource to the actual Selection Committee.”
Just as important as interviewing vendors is offering a debrief to those you didn’t end up partnering with, detailing the areas where their response to the RFP was lacking and anything else they could improve upon in the future.
“What I found is that's going to cut down on anything that might be adversarial after the fact,” Quinn said. “Those salespeople, they've got to go back to their bosses and explain why they lost the deal. And if they think that they were inappropriately excluded or scored wrong, especially if it's a big contract, that can become contentious. People tend to appreciate transparency and constructive feedback.”
5. BE PREPARED FOR UNANTICIPATED COSTS
The true expense of a body-worn camera program goes far beyond the devices themselves. Don’t get blindsided. Areas to keep in mind are:
- Infrastructure: Start-up costs, as well as future maintenance.
- Staffing: Adding temporary or permanent personnel may be among the most expensive components.
- Ancillary costs: Such as the increased volume of requests that often comes with recorded video.
- Data storage: During negotiations, Quinn suggests tethering future data storage costs to a benchmark such as the Consumer Price Index or a fixed increment that cannot be exceeded in any single fiscal year.
- Workforce training: Both initial and refresher.
“You must be thoughtful at the outset and think about what the true cost of a program is, understanding that each year you’re going to add a certain amount of data that has to be stored,” Quinn said.
To contact Christian Quinn, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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