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Fed funding for police body cameras a small step

The U.S. Department of Justice in recent days announced $20 million in competitive grants to help local police departments outfit officers with body cameras.

The pilot program is part of President Barack Obama's proposal to invest $75 million over three years to purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras for law enforcement agencies.

But any eventual outfitting of much of the nation's officers is an expensive proposition. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were 780,000 police and detectives working in the country in 2012.

Orlando, Florida, is an example. University of South Florida researchers are studying the potential use of police body cameras in the city to improve professionalism. The theory of the cameras is that -- when police don't turn them off or fail to turn them on -- the record and attention help promote better behavior.

Given generally positive results, Orlando will expand its program and outfit 450 patrol officers with body cams at a cost of $1.7 million. The ongoing storage costs will run $460,000 a year. (For some cities, the storage costs run into the millions.)

For Orlando, the cost per officer for initial set-up is $3,777, with annual storage running another $1,022. If purchases and outfitting are done on a per-city basis, and there is no significant economics in buying large numbers, $20 million would cover 5,295 officers,without taking into account ongoing expenses.

The New York City police department has 34,500 uniformed officers. At the rate of Orlando's costs per person, that would translate into more than $2.9 billion to outfit each with a body cam, and another $797 million annually for data storage.

Not all police officers work on the street. Many have desk jobs. But even if you counted only half of all police as needing cameras, the price would still be $1.45 billion up front and almost $399 million a year.

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