The Obama administration thinks body cameras can prevent future Fergusons and will dedicate $263 million to increasing their use by law enforcement agencies. The funding includes $75 million over three years to help police buy cameras, in addition to support for better training and oversight
For people who support putting cameras on cops, this is a very big deal. The White House plan is intended to outfit 50,000 officers with cameras, which would almost double the number of cameras in use in the country. There are currently two major U.S. companies selling body cameras: Vievu, which has sold more than 40,000 cameras to 3,900 police agencies, and Taser, with 30,000 cameras in use by 1,2000 agencies. The $75 million earmarked to purchase new body cameras is over seven times the total revenue Taser earned from selling the devices in 2013.
The White House’s support of cameras isn’t a surprise. In the days after Brown was shot, a petition on WhiteHouse.gov in support of legislation requiring all state, county, and local police to wear cameras gathered nearly 155,000 signatures. Roy Austin of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council posted an official response that described years of work by the administration to advance the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras. Police departments have long been coming around on cameras, but progress is slow. Adopting police cameras requires thousands of independent agencies coming to terms with thorny privacy and accountability issues.
Federal support could be a major tipping point in policing and technology. “In five years this will be ubiquitous,” Bueermann says. “It will be more unusual to see officers not wearing a body cam than wearing one.”
This puts the companies that make the cameras in an interesting position. One limiting factor could be Vievu and Taser’s ability to keep pace with demand, although representatives from both companies scoffed at this idea. Bueermann says that the market is also ripe for new competitors, given that cameras are still expensive compared to similar products in the commercial market.