54,000 videos per year. The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has historically processed this many incoming and outgoing videos annually. Some simple math says that five years would create 270,000 videos, 25 years makes roughly 1.35 million videos. Not wanting its officers having to hold onto the videos in their desks, 15 years ago the then police chief wanted a central repository of all videos to streamline chain of custody and continuity for court and created the TPS Video Services Unit.
“We developed a system in-house that’s called the Video Tape Management System,” says John Sandeman, Manager of the VSU. Originally based on a barcode system recording on VHS tapes, the system bar coded each individual piece of video to represent the video tape – even the shelves of the storage facility and machines were bar coded.
While managing all videos, the VSU recognized they might have to store them for 25 years – some cases like homicide or sex crimes requires this lengthy shelf life for the parole board. “We recognized that eventually we are going to run out of storage and we were going to have to think of something quick to mediate that issue,” notes Sandeman. Video Services began a long process of converting their VHS process to DVD – saving significant space on the shelf – in a system dubbed Digital Video Asset Management System (DVAMS) with the intention to eventually progress toward getting video onto the TPS network.
However, back 10 years ago, says Sandeman, their networks weren’t capable of handling video. Jokingly he remembers that if you’d mention to put video on the network to an IT person that “they’d have a heart attack.” Video requires a substantial amount of bandwidth and also requires a high quality of service. Combating this, the VSU decided to take the process step by step - somehow predicting that networks might be able to handle video as they can today.
When possible, Video Services used commercial of the shelf DVD recorders, again each video receiving its unique barcode for storage and tracking purposes. “Converting recording all interviews from VHS to DVD bought us some time,” says Sandeman.
The VSU also started recording all newscasts on the network with the Verage program which records all national and international newscasts. Every morning staffs members go through the feed collect the crime stories and edits them out to a link sent to senior officers and command officers. This allows Sandeman to “test” Toronto’s network – to see the robustness. “It’s really not mission-critical video … it gives us an opportunity to test what the network can handle."
The next step originated from recommendations from coroner requests: to record the jail cells 24-7. If recorded onto tape storage would become a problem again if not add to it, let alone require a massive amount of video tape to record every single jail cell in the city. “We moved into the digital era and went with Panasonic DVRs,” says Sandeman. Installed on edge servers within the network, the devices would record footage onto a cache drive marking 30 seconds prior and after movement with motion capture software to catch the full events of whatever happened in the cell.
With treading the waters of the digital world, Toronto then needed to integrate software to manage the files - one cannot put a physical bar code sticker onto a digital MPEG file. MediaSolv, a video and media management company previously of TranTech worked with TPS to bring all video assets into the MediaSolv application to be able to manage them in a case level. It's common, according to the company, that law enforcement can have many different asset types in a number of stove pipe systems. Jim Weaver, President and CEO of the MediaSolv Solutions Corporation explains that the company has two primary products. First is a video information management application, allowing them to go in and set up cameras and microphones in interview or interrogation rooms for example. Second is the MediaSolv product, the media integrated digital evidence management system (IDEM). "That application manages a multitude of digital asset types," says Weaver. These types can include video, audio files, photographs and documentation.