Published: 13:01, 02 November 2015
Kent Police spent hundreds of thousands of pounds more than it needed to on body-worn video cameras for 1,600 officers, we can exclusively reveal.
An investigation by KentOnline's sister paper the Kentish Gazette has found that in July the force agreed to pay £550 per camera from the firm B-Cam, while a basic internet search located models with identical or better specifications for just £65 per unit.
The facts can be revealed in the same week that it emerged a swathe of vital support staff at Canterbury police station were made redundant as part of a drive to save £61m over the next four years.
The revelations will intensify the embarrassment of Ann Barnes, the beleaguered Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, who oversees the force’s budget.
Only last month she had trumpeted the news that she was investing in 1,600 body-worn cameras, used by officers to record their activities.
But we can reveal that:
The force began using the cameras last year, starting with 400. They are used for recording ongoing crimes, arrests or other incidents.
"With the force required to meet significant budgetary challenges, our procurement process is more rigorous than ever" Police spokesman Adam Westgarth
They have been especially useful in ensuring quicker convictions, more early guilty pleas and fewer malicious complaints against officers.
On July 23, Kent Police agreed to buy another 1,600 units from B-Cam, which would supply them at a cost of £550 each, a total of £880,000. B-Cam charged another £52,750 for 200 replacement batteries and 50 chargers.
On September 22, a press release from the commissioner’s office announced a fresh investment of £1.4m into body-worn cameras.
It stated: “[This] includes set-up costs as well as the cameras themselves – with a further £400,000 set aside to cover ongoing costs for the next three years.”
If Kent Police had bought a different model with very high specifications, the BBM-A7 camera, it would have saved the taxpayer £713,600. If it had bought an Eeyelog EH05, with slightly better spec than the Chinese-manufactured model purchased, it would have saved £776,000.
But police spokesman Adam Westgarth said: "We are confident the purchase of body-worn video cameras for frontline officers represents good value for money. It is not helpful to try and compare commercially available products and their costs without a very detailed knowledge of the specification required.
"Indeed, the latest purchase of cameras follows a scoping exercise and a pilot project that has been ongoing for more than one year to ensure the units are robust, fit for purpose, secure and provided with highly-refined and secured software.
"Hampshire Constabulary, which is considered the national lead for body-worn video, has already seen a rise in early guilty pleas which helps speed up the justice process for both police officers and the courts.
"Body-worn video also has additional benefits for officers and victims in domestic abuse incidents, allowing officers to pursue convictions without the need for victims to give evidence and go through the court process.
"With the force required to meet significant budgetary challenges, the procurement process is more rigorous than ever with chief officers and the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner examining every aspect of our spending, including technology."
"It is also important to remember there are two functionality aspects to using body worn video - the camera units themselves, and the associated software to download and manage recorded content.
"Both have to meet the demands of everyday policing and work with our existing IT systems and those of the court service.
"With this in mind, we are confident the cameras we use represent best value for money and help the force provide a first-class service to the people of Kent."
B-Cam is a small company based in Port Isaac, Cornwall, with just a handful of employees.
The Company Check website shows it is three years old and has a net worth of £92,000.
The firm - which is accused of no wrongdoing - has been asked for a comment.
Additional reporting by Connor Dunn.