In the wake of highly publicized clashes between police officers and the public over the past year, police departments across the country are facing growing pressure to equip officers with body cameras for greater accountability. However, law enforcement agencies are also grappling with a host of questions over the costs and technical requirements required to manage the data associated with the devices.
Late last year, President Barack Obama announced a $75 million Body Worn Camera Partnership Program — the first phase, a $20 million pilot program centered at the Justice Department, started to roll out earlier this year. The program included $3 million set aside for training, technical assistance and tools to study best practices.
The cost of the body cameras, however, hasn’t been a major stumbling block. According to a report from the National Council of State Legislatures, some of the nation’s largest cities — Chicago; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; and Seattle — have already purchased body cameras and are rolling out body camera programs. Steve Ward, a former member of Seattle’s SWAT team and founder of Vievu — a body camera company — told StateScoop that more than 4,000 departments across the country have already purchased body cameras. The council also reported that 34 states are considering the use of body cameras for law enforcement in the 2015 legislative session.
But police departments are only beginning to come to terms with the cost of processing, storing and accessing the vast amounts of video data those cameras generate each day, warns Unisys’ Crystal Cooper, who leads the company’s public sector team.
“There has been a huge move to purchase body worn cameras and put dash cams on, and that was going to protect both the citizens as well as the organization, whether it be police, fire or whomever,” Cooper said. “But it’s very quickly moving away from ‘Okay, we’ve got the body worn,’ and into ‘How are we going to store all of this content?’”
Storing the video data itself is not the only concern, Cooper said. Departments are also concerned about the data management and business intelligence tools needed to manage all that body camera footage. And questions remain over how to work with the public in sharing that footage, while also protecting citizens’ privacy rights.
State chief information officers aren’t likely to get involved with the procurement of physical cameras by law enforcement and public safety departments, but they could see themselves drawn into planning efforts surrounding IT systems for managing the data those cameras create, in part because of their work and relationships with cloud and enterprise data management companies.
In a video interview, Eric Link, who served as interim Virginia CIO until June 8, said the state will play a role in helping departments identify the best storage value.
“That’s typically something that we do on the back end [to] support the business need,” Link said. “We’ll definitely play a role in helping them identify the best value for storage of the body camera video data.”
Ahsan Baig, the information technology program manager for the city of Oakland, California, told StateScoop in March that the city’s police department has been using body worn cameras since 2010. The cameras were purchased from Vievu, and since their investment in the technology, the department has been progressively buying storage to keep up with the amount of data collected.
“I saw the business value [with cloud], and that it’s going to be tremendous help for municipalities,”Baig told StateScoop in March. “We’ve just been buying more drives [and] more backup. The city has been investing a lot of money.” He noted the video footage “is sitting right now in my data center with terabytes and terabytes of data. Right now, there is really not a whole lot I can do.”
Unisys and others, including SceneDoc and Vievu, are stepping in to provide some solutions. Increasingly, that means helping departments funnel data into a government-owned data center or into a Criminal Justice Information Systems-compliant cloud, like ones offered by Amazon Web Services or Microsoft’s Azure Government Cloud.
Unisys, for instance, has developed what it calls Secure Image Management Solution for departments to archive all different kinds of police-related data. “We’re focused on the storage piece of it,” Cooper said. “Our role is to be the integrator and take that data and move it from that source and into a master’s system to provide output the client ultimately needs or wants.” She said Unisys has looked to partner with a camera provider to integrate and take the data and output it in a way a department can use efficiently.
Through the SIMS platform, Cooper said departments can collect and integrate data from a variety of platforms into one easily output format. In addition to integrating the body camera data, SIMS can add on a system allowing the public to upload images or video as well as analysis options for facial recognition and fingerprint detection.
Steve Ward, the CEO and co-founder of Vievu and a former member of Seattle’s SWAT team, told StateScoop last month that his company was moving into providing a product to aid in that data management, in addition to providing the cameras.
“[The Vievu Solution] allows for more storage of data than just video from our body cams,” Ward said. “Our new version has the capability to store all digital case file evidence in our platform, and of course, at the end of the day, it can store in the cloud as well.”
Like Unisys and SceneDoc, Vievu is looking to create the single platform for users of their body cameras to manage all the data. Vievu’s offering, however, costs $55 per user, and includes a camera, warranties on that camera and access to the Vievu Solution software, which is now available in either a software offering or a cloud-based software-as-a-service.
If a Vievu customer does not buy the bundle, the cameras themselves cost approximately $800, while the Azure-backed cloud option runs at $30 per month with options to extend on the included 60 gigabyte storage space per user.
Comparatively, SceneDoc runs at around $500 per user, per year, according to the company’s CEO Alex Kottoor. The SceneDoc offering only enables access to their forms conversion program and their scene documentation software.
Another need for a data management solution surrounding body camera data comes when evidence needs to be presented in court, according to Rick Collins, Unisys’ public sector account executive.
“There’s another kind of paradigm shift here that’s going on in addition to body worn cameras exploding in volume,” Collins said. “Getting this stuff analyzed and ready for court.”
According to Collins, creating links between different types of data or different types of videos as an officer or an attorney sorts through the data and then being able to translate that information in a way that is admissible and understandable in court is essential.
“Right now, I think agencies are just realizing that there’s all this body worn data, and they need to get storage,” Collins said. “The next wave of that comes when they begin to take this stuff into court, and it begins to get challenged about how it was stored.”
To combat against that, when body-worn camera footage is imported to SIMS, the program hashes the original file and secures it in order to ensure it is not tampered with. From then on, any changes to the file, whether they be in the actual file itself or in its metadata, are logged.
“You can kind of keep track of all various stages of what is happening, and you are ensured that your original is still an original,” Collins said. “It’s very similar to a physical evidence chain of custody, but it’s digital.”