6 ways to save money on a digital evidence management system
Storing large amounts of data can be expensive but there are ways to reduce the cost
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By Tim Dees for PoliceOne BrandFocus
It’s no secret that implementing a body-worn camera (BWC) program comes with costs far in excess of the price of the hardware. The price departments pay for storing and managing the digital video the cameras produce, plus digital evidence from other sources quickly exceeds that of the cameras themselves. And, that is an expense that only increases with time, as the archive grows.
Here are six ways that law enforcement agencies can save on storage and management of digital data:
1. Develop your policies first.
Many agencies rush into the implementation of a BWC program, and then work out their policies and procedures as the need develops. This sometimes results in a realization that the new system doesn’t do what the agency wanted it to. There are many outfits that have gone before you that can share their own policies and advise you. Making a call to a few other departments (ideally, those about the same size as yours) that have existing video capture programs can give you a framework to build on.
2. Determine optimal retention times.
Ideally, you would be able to keep your digital evidence forever. Forever is very expensive. You will pay for every gigabyte of data you store, and you may pay more every time you access it. Consider deleting data after, say, 30 days, when the incident associated with a recording has developed no charges. Misdemeanors can be held for six months or until the case is disposed of, felonies, maybe three years. You will have to work with your risk managers and prosecutors to find the optimal retention times. Keep in mind that some states mandate retention periods for some records.
3. Configure your system to handle all your digital evidence.
The digital evidence management (DEM) system furnished by a camera vendor is likely to handle only the output from the cameras. Every law enforcement agency collects multiple digital evidence types in the course of business. In addition to the video from your BWCs and dash cams, you may have video and audio from interview rooms, surveillance cameras at your facility and at businesses and homes in your community, still photos, video from citizens’ smartphones, files downloaded from YouTube and social media websites, mug shots, and digital fingerprint records. Your reports, if not already digitized, can be reduced to PDFs. You should have a single system to handle all of this data, and one that ties files to the cases they are associated with.
4. Look for a turnkey system.
Large operations can afford full-time IT managers. Smaller agencies usually assign technology management as a collateral duty for an officer or supervisor already working there. You need a system that doesn’t require a lot of training or expertise to run. The individual assigned to manage the DEM system won’t be in that slot forever. When he or she moves on to another assignment or agency, the new manager should be able to step in without the need for a lot of institutional or technical knowledge.
5. Consider solutions other than “the cloud.”
Nearly all BWC vendors have a DEM solution for the video their cameras produce, and it’s almost always online, aka “the cloud.” Cloud storage is expensive (and gets more expensive as your data capacity needs expand), and you may have to pay extra for file retrieval. It also has a huge bandwidth requirement that your internet connection may not be able to handle. One alternate option is a multi-tier storage system, with data stored locally on solid state and spinning hard drives and file-based tape, with backup and long-term storage online.
6. What if you change vendors?
Going with the DEM system offered by your BWC vendor may also tie you to that vendor's metadata strategy. This is the information stored with each recording that gives you the time and date, names and unit numbers of officers, and geographic coordinates. If you decide to go with another vendor at some future date, how much will it cost to move your existing data? How will it be delivered to you? Will it include the metadata, necessary to index and manage recordings? Some vendors regard that metadata as proprietary, and when you get your video off their system, the metadata won’t be included with it.
These are just some of the concerns your agency should have in implementing a BWC program or DEM system. Even though there might be considerable public pressure to get such a program up and running, you have a duty to perform sound planning and research prior to purchasing so that you continue to provide the highest level of service to your community.
About the Author
Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at email@example.com.