Caluculate All Costs

Caluculate All Costs

Advanced surveillance equipment often carries significant long-term costs, which should be evaluated and accounted for before the decision to acquire the equipment is made.

Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Traditional Proverb

In recent years, many communities have seen their public safety budgets stretched thin. Some police departments and government officials have pointed to surveillance technology to fill the gap left by cuts to staff and preventive programs, especially if federal, state, or private funding can help defray the initial purchase price. But surveillance technology comes with substantial  costs that are often overlooked and strain budgets and agency effectiveness in the long term.

The costs of a new surveillance system go  beyond the initial purchase expenses. Once the system is acquired, both officers and civilian support staff will have to be trained in its use, necessitating a significant investment of both time and money. The department’s current computer, radio, or other technical infrastructure may have to be modified in order to make sure all systems work together adequately. Once installed, the equipment must be maintained; in some cases, such as systems that monitor cell phones, it may even have to be upgraded at great expense to keep up with advances in other kinds of technology. Surveillance devices that are particularly prone to abuse or breaches of inadequately secured databases could invite costly litigation. Routine audits are necessary to ensure the equipment is not being misused or abused. Additionally, there can be non-monetary costs, as  surveillance can generate resentment or mistrust among segments of the public whose support and confidence police officers  need.

Calculating the full cost of a new surveillance system requires investigating the system thoroughly. Review the manufacturer’s system specifications and user manuals, and compare it to the agency’s current data management systems and staff resources. This will indicate what sort of modification and training costs the agency could end up paying. But don’t rely exclusively on information from the company selling the device! Research the experience of other communities that have acquired the surveillance system under consideration – contact activists, government officials, and fiscal watchdogs  to learn from their successes and problems.

In addition, contrast the financial costs of acquiring the equipment with the cost of other proven strategies for improving public safety – community outreach by officers, programs to reduce recidivism, increased patrols in high-crime areas, etc. There may be better options that minimize financial risk while getting the most out of limited resources. 

In short, calculating all the costs of a surveillance system can help government save crucial resources in the long run


  • Would the agency choose in invest in this technology if federal, state, or private funding weren’t available?
  • Can this system be integrated into the agency’s existing systems, or will it require expensive modifications? Will there be technical hiccups along the way?
  • Will the system require upgrades in the future?
  • Does the agency have technical staff that can easily be trained in the use of this technology?
  • Will the agency own this system, or will it have to lease the system from an outside company or other government?
  • Does this system come with strings attached? For example, will your community be locked into a long-term contract for the operation of the system, maintenance, or data retention?
  • Does your community have the data management infrastructure to keep the surveillance data secure? Is there a danger of liability or bungled prosecutions due to inadequate data security?
Related Civil Liberties Concerns: 

Examples of Use