- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - One of the first Iowa police departments to outfit officers with body-worn cameras has repeatedly had to pay for repairs, highlighting one ongoing cost of the increasingly popular devices.

The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety has shipped dozens of cameras to their manufacturer, Seattle-based Vievu, for replacement and repair since buying them in 2011, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The department has paid 26 times to repair cameras at a total cost of nearly $5,000, about half of which was incurred last year as the equipment ages, university purchasing records show. Under its current service contract, each repair costs $193 apiece with shipping - nearly the price of some new cameras, which have dropped in cost significantly in recent years. Several other cameras that stopped working were replaced free of charge because they were covered by initial or upgraded warranties that have cost the department nearly $20,000, records show.

Repair and replacement costs are one long-term factor that departments are considering as they decide whether to adopt body cameras, which are seen as a way to improve relations between officers and communities.

For officers and security guards who use them around the Iowa City campus, the most common problem comes when they plug their cameras into computers to download videos the wrong way and damage the USB port.

“That’s what the repairs are for. They put the plug in upside down and damage the port. They send it back in and they have to replace the port,” said David Visin, the department’s interim director.

Those repairs are not covered by warranties because they were caused by the errors of officers, who have been trained on how to properly use the cord, he said.

Vievu President Steve Lovell said in a statement the company has since released a newer model that includes better visibility to the upload port.

“The connection cables are very visible and marked for users to connect the cameras to the software,” he said, adding that training on the devices is critical.

Visin said the department has recently ordered the newer model to test, and expects to replace its cameras in coming years. The good news: They now cost half of what the department paid when it made its initial purchase of nearly $40,000 - 45 cameras at $875 apiece - in 2011. The department added 18 more in 2012 and four more last year at an additional $18,000 expense, records show.

The department initially deployed cameras as a way to protect officers amid complaints about how they were patrolling in and around Iowa football games. Many fans had been upset by what they perceived as heavy-handed enforcement of tailgating rules.

Videos from the cameras have allowed the department to quickly investigate complaints, write better reports on incidents and present better evidence in court, Visin said.

Recent body camera footage showed how two officers responded in December to a crowd of students upset by a 7-foot-tall sculpture depicting a Ku Klux Klan robe. While the artist intended for the piece on the history of racial violence in the U.S. to be a sympathetic gesture toward protesters angry about police shootings, it outraged some students and was soon removed from the campus.

Administrators were able to review the officers’ video to quickly understand what happened in a chaotic situation. Visin said the video, which was later released publicly, showed “how hard their job is.”

While pleased with the technology, he said the repairs are a reminder of how it isn’t perfect. He said sometimes officers drop and break cameras, forget to turn them on or to charge their batteries, or fail to capture an incident from the best angle.

“There are limitations to this,” Visin said.


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