Body-worn cameras have changed the nature of law enforcement, and much like video everywhere else, the technology is changing how police departments store and manage video data.
Today, video is used nearly everywhere for officers: police vehicles, interview rooms, surveillance videos and body-worn cameras. BWCs in particular have impacted law enforcement. A Pew Research Center report found that two-thirds of police and 93 percent of the public believe that BWCs should be used to record interactions between officers and members of their communities.
“Video is part of a transformation in policing and public safety,” says Rohan Galloway-Dawkins, director of product management for records and evidence at Motorola Solutions.
Yet as law enforcement agencies adopt video storage platforms and begin to sort through the dizzying array of technical standards and protocols for digital evidence management, challenges often arise. Systems often aren’t compatible, and finding the required video clip can prove costly and time consuming. Moreover, there’s quite a bit more to managing the slew of video that pours in than meets the eye.
However, body camera devices comprise only a piece of digital evidence management frameworks.
“Body cameras receive a lot of attention, but it’s important to build an entire IT ecosystem that supports video storage,” says Matt Parnofiello, senior public safety strategist for CDW-G.
How to Build an Effective Public Safety Video Management Policy
Because video sources are so diverse and not specifically designed for law enforcement, managing and storing digital files can be challenging for police departments, explains Brandon Epstein, detective sergeant for the New Brunswick Police Department in New Jersey.
“Some of this video may turn into evidence but most of it will not. You have to have systems and storage in place to manage the video,” says Epstein. “You have to have clear retention policies.”
But a variety of file formats, storage systems and management tools complicates a policy initiative.
“A problem for law enforcement agencies is that they frequently purchase systems on a product-by-product basis. Over time, they wind up with interview room cameras, dash cams and BWCs that aren’t integrated. This results in silos of video files and other evidence,” Parnofiello says.
For example, some cameras may capture images in an analog format, others in a digital format — while different vendors use different codecs and application programming interfaces. This diversity can result in different video storage requirements and tools to manage, retrieve and view videos.
A scattershot approach can prove burdensome for law enforcement agencies, in terms of both money and staff resources, Parnofiello says. A better approach is to create a single, searchable repository that integrates and simplifies video storage.
“Otherwise you wind up with a system that makes it difficult or impossible to retrieve digital evidence when and where it’s needed,” he adds, noting that poorly integrated data storage solutions lead to security risks.
Seattle Taps Cloud for Video Management Solution
One law enforcement agency that has managed to build a robust video storage framework is the Seattle Police Department (SPD). In 2015, it received a citizen request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for every piece of video footage the department had collected. The sheer logistics of the task seemed overwhelming. Moreover, there was no simple way to blur sensitive video.
The SPD managed to meet the request using just the resources it had on hand, but that led to a greater recognition that the department needed a more modern, automated approach to video storage management and discovery.
The SPD built a cloud-based storage platform where video can be viewed in highly redacted form through a portal. The system, built with the help of Motorola Solutions, went live in 2017. Additionally, lightly redacted, FOIA-approved footage can be provided if a request is approved.
As a result of turning to a cloud services approach, the SDP has been able to cut hours of search time down to minutes.
Integration Proves Critical for Effective Digital Evidence Management
When it comes to effectively managing digital evidence, a focus on integration is critical, Epstein says. It’s important to move beyond CDs and DVDs and develop a storage framework that can accommodate various forms of media.
“There is no single data format, and there probably will never be a standard format,” he says. As a result, it’s crucial to have staff that know how to manage and use digital media. “They have to understand file formats and how to convert files.”
It’s also critical to understand the value of video at different points in its lifecycle along with the constituencies that require it, including staff, citizens, prosecutors and courts, Motorola Solutions’ Galloway-Dawkins notes. When an organization identifies the value of digital media at these various points, it’s possible to know when and how to use discs, flash or cloud services.
As Parnofiello points out: “A data storage platform has to be flexible enough to grow and also agile enough to keep up with rapid changes in technology.”