During the past few years, body worn cameras have been one of the greatest technological innovations for police departments. By recording the entirety of an officer’s interaction with criminals, suspects, and the public, body worn cameras help increase accountability, transparency, and trust between citizens and police.
Sadly, many police departments choose not to use body worn cameras because of a very mundane problem: data storage and archiving. It’s a shame that something so basic creates such an obstacle that towns and cities choose to stop using body worn cameras entirely. Arguably, a lack of states enforcing their use combined with technology hurdles has slowed down adoption to about half of police departments across the United States.
If you’re a municipality not using body worn cameras, or if you’re thinking about getting rid of them because storage is expensive, take this 4-point assessment first.
This assessment will allow you to see if you might be in a situation that unnecessarily drives your costs up and makes the management of your video footage more difficult than needed.
After your assessment, you may be able to reduce costs, save time, and streamline your use of body camera video by following several important best practices listed below.
1. Don’t keep video indefinitely. Organize videos and follow state records retention policies.
This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that drives up a municipality’s storage costs. While laws do require you to store footage for specific periods of time, the boon is that you can get rid of footage beyond what the law requires.
Many towns and cities keep video indefinitely because it’s easier than developing a process of periodically purging records they are not legally required to keep. If you develop a process to purge video footage aligned with state records retention policies, then you are following the law and getting rid of video that takes up lots of storage space.
To do this effectively, you also need a way to easily organize your video footage. Many police departments dump video footage into some kind of repository (such as a server) and do not take the time to organize the information. While this video dump may seem like a practical shortcut, it hurts the ability to access and retrieve footage in the long run.
Without good organization, it’s harder to follow state records retention policies—especially knowing what needs to be kept and for how long. Your video archiving solution needs features that make organization easy.
2. Use an unlimited storage solution with a fixed cost and no arbitrary data caps.
Arrangements negotiated with video storage and archiving vendors are often not in a municipality’s best interest. Several aspects of data storage that are disadvantageous to towns and cities include data caps on storage, with anything stored above a certain data limit becoming more expensive, and costs that seem low at first but increase as storage needs increase—such as more cost per GB as you reach specific tiered levels.
Vendors can sound convincing during the sales process, making their solution seem cheap and able to accommodate your needs. However, they play on our psychological denial of eventual storage increases. For example, smartphone retailers often tell customers that the latest and greatest phone will never have storage issues. 32GB or whatever is plenty…until two years later when you’re running out of space and need a new phone!
Instead, you need an unlimited data storage solution with a fixed cost and no data caps. Storage costs will still exist, but with unlimited data storage you’ve mitigated some of the financial bleeding that can occur when negotiating a bad deal with a video storage and archiving vendor.
3. Use an offsite video archiving vendor—and don’t do it in-house.
Many towns and cities are used to managing their own servers in-house, but this situation quickly runs into problems with body camera video storage. Because the amount of body camera video footage entering your servers every day is like a firehose turned on 24/7, managing the inflow becomes difficult. You may also find your municipality reactively buying extra servers or ad hoc storage just to keep up—which increases your costs, causes you to scramble all the time, and introduces a higher risk of losing videos.
Even worse, some police departments try to solve their storage problems with cheap USB drives. This solution is extremely risky. USB drives get lost or broken easily, introducing data loss and cybersecurity risks. Also, imagine a big pile of USB drives and someone asks for specific video footage. Good luck finding a specific video easily!
A better alternative is leveraging an offsite video archiving vendor. For example, the process may work like this:
- You store only the current month’s body camera video footage onsite on your servers, keeping onsite storage low.
- Once a day, the vendor archives that day’s body camera video footage to a secure offsite data storage location.
- When needed, you can access any archived body camera video footage at any time.
This way, you don’t worry about managing the hardware needed to store all that video footage onsite.
4. Get help accessing videos and processing Open Records Requests.
Especially at smaller municipalities, staff often struggle to search through archived video. Depending on the software, search capabilities, and technical knowledge of the employees, a search for video can be difficult and frustrating. It’s not just data storage costs that cause towns and cities to give up on body cameras—it’s the lost time and technical hurdles of dealing with complex searches for footage.
Similar to a document management system, a video archiving system can be easier managed with IT professionals helping out. You need CJIS-certified IT engineers with extensive experience handling Open Records Requests and quickly retrieving body camera video files for municipalities who can work alongside your staff—allowing you to review and edit footage faster.
Better yet, if your IT vendor works with you under a fixed cost helpdesk model, all work related to retrieving video will be included in your monthly invoice.
So, before you give up on body cameras because of high costs, time wasted, and frustration about managing the video archiving process, take our 4-point assessment to see if you might be able to improve your situation. Your citizens are counting on you.
If you want to discuss your current body worn camera video storage and archiving issues, fill out the form below.