How WatchGuard’s 4RE solves data storage problems for police
Recording in HD significantly increases the evidentiary value of video evidence – but with larger files comes storage issues.
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In recent years, there’s been an explosion in the volume of agency-generated video recordings of police work — from on-officer cameras to dash cams and mobile surveillance trailers and other platforms. This video has been invaluable in bringing countless investigations to a successful conclusion, and has prevented potentially costly lawsuits against officers when no such lawsuit is merited.
Furthermore, the quality of the video being captured has also exponentially improved — whereas only a few years ago most video was limited to grainy, low-quality black-and-white imagery, many systems now are recording in higher-definition. Increasingly, there has been demand for true HD-quality video for police.
With so much more video being recorded — some of it captured in HD — the issue of storage becomes a concern. Recording in HD significantly increases the evidentiary value of the video evidence, but those video files are significantly larger — five to six times larger — than standard definition. This has proven to be a barrier for many agencies.
WatchGuard Video has come up with a system to help alleviate some of that problem. The company’s 4RE™ High Definition In-Car Video System simultaneously records video at two different resolutions through a single camera lens, and then selects which version to keep after the event is over.
Jack and Jill and their Buckets of Data
The engineers who designed the 4RE system would likely laugh at the simplicity of the following analogy, but imagine that your data storage is a well (like the one in the Jack and Jill children’s poem).
The well has a specific and set maximum capacity. Every time you upload video to the system, you pour water into that well. Pour too much HD video in there, and soon your well will be full-to-overflowing.
In essence, the WatchGuard multiple-resolution recording process enables police agencies to capture higher-resolution video while using less overall data storage than conventional systems. It does so by taking the source video camera, splitting the signal into two streams, and depositing both SD and HD files into separate buckets. The HD bucket is full with water, the SD bucket has one fifth of that volume.
This is accomplished by the officer when he or she ends the recording at the end of an event or incident. The system asks the officer to input what type of event it was, he or she makes a selection. Although recordings are kept in both resolutions, only the appropriate resolution is uploaded automatically later when the vehicle arrives back at the station.
To go further with our ‘buckets of data’ analogy, Jack carries evidentiary video in HD with a larger file size, and Jill carries the bucket of non-evidentiary, standard definition video, with smaller file size. Which of the two individuals pouring their bucket of data into the well is determined when the officer selects the type of event the incident was. The officer’s selection of which type of incident it was will determine whether the HD video with a larger file size or the non-evidentiary, standard definition video, with smaller file size is most appropriate.
It’s important to note that the officer is not making the decision about HD or SD — they’re simply making determinations based on agency policy, which then triggers which version of the video is deposited into the data well. A DUI or an arrest event is automatically stored in HD, whereas a simple traffic infraction is kept in SD. It’s totally seamless, and for all practical purposes, invisible to the officer.
Eliminating the File Size Penalty
Most HD recording systems for law enforcement record in HD all the time, and store all video evidence in HD. This results in significant added cost for storage and slower file exports for court, internal review, and whatnot. This added cost has essentially kept many agencies from even considering a migration toward HD, even though that video can be significantly more useful in court. There’s just too much of a “penalty” in terms of storage costs.
The WatchGuard 4RE system allows agencies to prioritize recordings based on agency policy to record in different resolutions and this is done after the fact, so that HD is always recorded, but video is always transferred in the most optimal resolution, allowing agencies to record as much or as little in HD as they choose, based on their policy and procedure requirements.
“We discovered that most police agencies record at the lowest resolution in order to minimize file sizes and data storage costs,” WatchGuard President and CEO Robert Vanman explained.
“So we decided to develop a recording system that handled routine events (that do not go to court) differently than the critical events (about 10 percent of recordings) that stem from ‘arrestable’ incidents,” Vanman continued.
“We simultaneously record all events in both 720p high definition and a lower resolution, and then after the recording is stopped, we automatically determine which resolution to keep based on the event type classification. Each agency sets up their own list of event classifications and configures which event types they want to keep in high definition,” Vanman said.
The fact is most video recorded by law enforcement is never used in a court of law. Countless traffic stops — in which the only thing that happens is a driver being cited for an infraction — are recorded and stored (for a duration determined by agency policy). If that’s captured in HD only, the file takes a long time to upload to storage and it takes up a lot of room.
Vanman concluded, “By eliminating the file size penalty, 4RE provides pristine high-definition video for all court-bound video while simultaneously reducing the overall file storage needs and wireless transfer times.”
Captain Michael A. Patrick, Assistant Director of Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Patrol summed it up thusly, “With the multiple-resolution recording capability of the new system, we now have the option to save the videos in either HD or standard definition, which saves us time in the copying process as well as in storage space.”