Ever since dashboard mounted cameras first came into use, agencies have been challenged with how to manage the video captured: how long do you store it for? How do you handle release requests? How do you maintain the chain of evidence? How do you redact pieces of images when necessary?
At the beginning of the digital duty camera evolution, few foresaw the long-term cost and space demands of video retention. You see, the answer to that first question of how long you have to keep the video for is, “Forever.” When you look at the data generated by one dashboard camera across the span of one duty shift, that doesn’t seem like a huge amount of data, especially when resolution wasn’t great and screen size was minimal. Then digital video evolution happened. Now resolution is 100 times what it once was and screen size is four to six times what it once was. For the same small piece of video evidence, the data used went from (as an example) 20 megabytes to 20-plus gigabytes. That’s a 1,000-fold increase. Further, we went from one dashboard camera to having multiple cameras for a given officer: dashboard, on-body, prisoner transport and often more. The data size never shrinks and remember that we’re still talking about ONE officer. What does an agency with fifty officers do? 100 officers? 10,000 officers?
Quite quickly, data storage and management became an unmanageable problem for many agencies. Maintaining a defendable Chain of Evidence for all that data was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Thankfully, the industry that supports law enforcement evolved just as quickly. As computer and camera technology continued to evolve, “the cloud” came into being and more storage options grew. Ignorance feeds misunderstanding and/or mistrust, so a lot of agency commanders and executive staff avoided the cloud until a better understanding was developed.
Chain of Evidence concerns were understood and addressed at the outset. Most often, the line officer has no access to his duty video. It’s usually automatically transferred to the agency management system and overseen by a command-rank officer assigned to the task. For larger agencies, there are either teams of officers assigned to that task in a specialized unit or they outsource that service need to a licensed, bonded and cleared service provider. Most commercial entities that sell duty cameras also sell a management software suite and storage solution along with training and management support services.
Even if an agency contracts such services, however, the agency itself is still responsible and liable for the proper handling and management of all video evidence, so a fully versed command-rank officer is assigned as liaison at a minimum. In contemporary law enforcement operations, there are some requirements that any duty camera system should meet.
Every camera used to capture video should be uniquely identified. That means that any video captured can be tracked back to the officer or patrol unit that originally captured it.
All video captured should, at a minimum, have a date and time stamp for when it was captured. Given the technology of the day, geolocation information should also be tagged to each video. If the video is captured by a moving camera (and aren’t they all), the beginning location, course of travel and ending location of the video should be included.
When the video was downloaded (or uploaded depending on the system) should also be automatically recorded along with any appropriate case numbers, identifiers for all officers that might be involved in that case and any other involved persons such as witnesses, suspects, victims, etc.
In any case where the video is of evidentiary value, there should be a tool for immediate supervisory review and a method for tagging the video with any administrative or disciplinary concerns, also changing how that video is managed for storage and later access.
The video management system should have an automated or easy-to-use redacting systems to selectively black out locations or people as necessary for privacy considerations should the video have to be released outside of agency control. The software suite should have a built-in method for tracking what segment of redacted video was released by who, to whom, when and for what purpose.
Agency policy has to be put in place for determining how long video is stored in what accessible format. There are storage solutions that, over time, change the storage format to become more cost effective. For instance, the original video in its digital format is online in the cloud and available on demand to the command staff. After a specified period, the video gets transferred to DVD and is stored for another specified period of time. Other options for longer term storage can be available and some might change the storage medium, but at the end of the day, the agency still has to be assured that it can go back years and dig up all related video from a given case on demand.
Perhaps the last biggest challenge of video management and storage is that the technology is evolving so quickly. What is “latest greatest” today will be far from that in five years. Therefore, it behooves agencies to insure that policies written take such evolution into consideration, focusing on the conceptual as well as the specific contemporary. Further, when those policies are being written, there has to be a control for changing the policy to maintain efficiency with the technology. An annual review is probably a good idea—although it can be both time and manpower demanding.
Whatever your agency is using at the moment for video management and storage, schedule a review of it in the near future. The technology is developing very quickly, as are case laws, insurance requirements, etc. Make sure your agency stays in compliance within your budget.
This article appeared in the July issue of OFFICER Magazine.