Why Hybrid Data Storage Might Be Best When Expanding Police Body Camera Use

Police on hand as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs legislation requiring state law enforcement to wear body cameras in June 2015 in North Charleston

Police on hand as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signs legislation requiring state law enforcement to wear body cameras in June 2015 in North Charleston North Charleston / Flickr.com


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Demand for high-definition body cameras is at an all-time high, but the resulting data can be too much for some departments to handle.

When the Oakland Police Department gave nearly 200 officers body cameras in 2010 use of force incidents dropped 73.8 percent. The Northern California city hasn’t had an officer-involved shooting in 18 months.

Local governments increasingly want to equip police with “always-on” body cameras, but the large volume of data produced requires a hybrid solution where video evidence is readily accessible and less-sensitive information archived. A year’s worth of data from a single body cam can equal a terabyte—way too much for traditional disc space storage to handle for cheap.

Steve Ward, a police officer for 15 years who in 2007 founded Seattle-based body camera company VIEVU, noticed squad cars were typically outfitted with cameras even though officers are in them only about 5 percent of their shift.

In the seven years Ward has been putting cameras on cops, 4,000 police agencies have signed on to his company’s platform. And that number has skyrocketed in the last six months, he told Route Fifty in an interview, just as more high-profile police-involved shooting incidents sparked a larger law enforcement policy discussion across the nation.

And with that body-camera policy discussion has come an important technical discussion: What’s the best—and most economical—way for a law enforcement agency to store all the data from the amassed video footage?

“It used to be we would have to go out and tell police chiefs why need they needed our technology, but in the past year body cameras have become de facto,” Ward said. “My opinion is they’ll be in every department within two years, and the biggest difference is law enforcement is switching from not wanting a cloud to wanting a cloud.”

A year ago, less than 10 percent of police agencies wanted cloud-based storage, he added, but a recent Microsoft poll of 450 police officers found an “overwhelming majority” wants it now.

So VIEVU partnered with Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft to host its secure file management software on the Azure Government Cloud—the first-ever system to connect with the FBI’s database in compliance with stringent Criminal Justice Information Service policies.

Most of VIEVU’s customers want to manage their video themselves, and this gives them the storage space without having to hire additional IT staff to manage hard drives and servers. One software platform is executable on a local machine and another stores video locally on the cloud, with a fully-hosted cloud version also available for greater security.

For $55 a month, clients get an LE3 HD camera, VERIPATROL software on the cloud, 60 gigabytes of storage that’s expandable at $0.125-a-gigabyte-a-month, and 24-hour support. They can deploy as many cameras as they want.

Average video retention of non-evidence for most police agencies is 90 days, after which VIEVU’s software will delete the files, but it has methodologies so videos can be flagged and saved forever or have metadata like case reports added to them.

“Educating people about storage is no longer a peripheral part of the solution; it’s the foundation folks need to think about building a security infrastructure on,” said Wayne Arvidson, Quantum Corporation vice president of video solutions. “As they look for a solution, they want to look for something to balance performance and scalability with the budget they’ve got—solutions allowing them to do their job and meet their objectives of protecting people while not becoming professional data managers.”

The San Jose-based data storage company offers a hybrid alternative to the Azure Government Cloud in the form of a tiered environment: disc-space storage kept as small as possible to meet short-term retention policies backed up by cloud or magnetic tape storage serving as an archive. This minimizes the disc space video footage takes.

Quantum’s file system was developed 18 years ago for imagery and mapping intelligence apps and looks no different than a C drive to users. Files can be double-clicked without officers needing to know the tier of storage data is being migrated from.

Storage done wrong can cost half a law enforcement agency’s body-camera budget depending on retention times and the number of cameras in use, Arvidson said. In Alberta, Canada, the Calgary Police Department has about 1,500 officers and originally couldn’t afford to keep video data more than a few days because body cams were capturing 18 gigabytes every shift.

Quantum offers a 750-terabyte "data aware" storage solution, where files are moved over to tape or cloud storage—depending on the client's budget—if not accessed for 15 days.

“The cloud is supplanting local storage in general, and it’s pretty amazing,” Ward said. “Eighteen thousand law enforcement agencies are having to manage their infrastructure, and a lot of departments are re-creating the wheel when it’s not cost-effective to do that.”

As the law enforcement continues to look at body cameras as a way to improve prosecutions and boost crime prevention efforts, Arvidson said, police agencies will want more cameras, better resolution and longer video-retention periods.

And hybrid storage solutions are the only way to handle the increased data, he said.

“Very comprehensive analytics are being applied to surveillance data concerning how we keep somebody from actually doing crime, not how to catch them,” Arvidson said. “In the past it’s really been about picking cameras to cover the field of view, lighting conditions, amount of detail, and what to use to manage that data.”

(Photo by North Charleston / Flickr.com)

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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