4 overlooked essentials police departments should consider in their body camera initiative
Cops and citizens agree: Body cameras for law enforcement agents have many benefits. These smartphone-size cameras help police departments assemble concrete evidence and accurately conduct investigations. But they also improve the visibility of crime prevention, can build and further public trust, and prevent frivolous complaints from becoming serious headaches.
But body cameras are a significant investment. Detroit will spend nearly $3 million on the cameras and storage, and Jersey City is hoping to secure grant money to offset some of the $1.2 million that a slew of cameras will cost. Such a large IT purchase must be made strategically with a full view of all the technology needed for a successful body camera program. But often, the behind-the-scenes equipment needed to roll out this technology goes overlooked.
Police departments eyeing body cameras must examine a number of out-of-sight considerations, such as storage requirements and security, needed to successfully equip officers with a body camera. Before you submit an RFP for a full set of body cameras, consider these four key components that work part and parcel with body cameras.
1. Retention policies. Government agencies typically have specific retention policies on how long records must be kept and maintained. Police officers using body cameras will be conducting traffic stops and on-the-street engagements. So how long does a department need to keep video of a routine traffic stop? What about a DWI stop?
Police departments must develop retention policies that cover how long videos will be stored, and what happens after the timeframe has elapsed – will videos be deleted, or released to the public, or kept in long-term data storage? All of these considerations will impact a police department’s storage needs.
2. Storage requirements. One traffic stop might last just 15 minutes, but that’s still a big video file. Now, imagine multiple stops every day, and that’s a ton of new data. In fact, the Oakland, California police department creates about six terabytes of new data every month from its 560 body cameras. Whether the 50,000 strong New York City Police Department or a small-town department with 25 officers, police equipped with body cameras generate a lot of video.
Police departments must plan for this influx, and will likely need to invest in storage equipment that can hold this huge amount of new data. Depending on their existing infrastructure and local policies, departments may use on-premises storage or a cloud solution, or even a hybrid of the two. Existing assets might handle the job in the short-term, but a long-term data storage solution is necessary.
3. Connectivity and logging data. An officer wearing a body camera returns to the station after a traffic stop, and must upload the video onto the department’s storage. Typically, officers upload videos via a docking port in the station, but videos can also be downloaded over Wi-Fi when an officer nears the station or through in-car connectivity capabilities (if equipped). Departments must have a process in place, supported by the newest technologies, to securely upload the video, catalog and classify it, and ensure it is compliant with CJIS guidelines and local policies.
Body cameras are being purchased by police departments in record numbers, and it is estimated that 80 percent of all U.S. police officers will patrol the streets with body cams by 2017. But too often these departments are buying equipment that doesn’t work with their existing technology, or fails to meet security and compliance requirements. Videos that are improperly uploaded, tagged, and stored risk being lost in the ether, or accidently deleted before policy permits. It also hurts the efforts of analytics software, which can recognize faces or analyze patterns to pinpoint areas where crimes are more likely to occur.
4. Security. Videos uploaded to a department’s network won’t be opening in Windows Media Player or iTunes. The specialized software that a police department purchases must be capable of encrypting and securing files, as well as tagging and logging each video.
Next, the software must safeguard each file. Videos cannot be edited, issued to social media accounts, or removed from storage unless a specific protocol and procedure is followed. This ensures evidence is maintained, not tampered with, and accurately reflects the events as they unfolded.
Why body cameras? Good policing.
Body cameras encourage community policing, and help establish trust between officers and the citizens they serve. When officers wear body cameras, both police and citizens benefit because these devices tell the whole story of a police-citizen encounter.
Plus, the videos taken on body cameras can be shared between departments or released to the public to try to solve crimes. These videos can also be used for training, as cadets in police academies can see and learn from videos that capture proper protocols and good policing.
But having every officer wearing a body camera just isn’t enough – police departments need back-end support, like retention policies and plenty of storage, to ensure that body cameras are useful in protecting citizens and serving the community. These important components, when coupled with the body cameras, represent a large investment, but together the system encourages better policing and more accountability in both police departments and the community.