After widespread debate erupted around the country last year following several highly publicized cases of questionable law enforcement tactics during arrests, the desire for police departments to supply officers with body cameras is now stronger than ever.
The problem, however, is that even if law enforcement agencies manage to get their hands on the camera hardware, there are often no resources in place to support the high-storage needs that arise from the officers’ use of the body cameras.
Here’s a look at how some states and local law enforcement agencies have dealt with the lack of storage space when it comes to body cameras.
The Austin Police Department set aside $3 million of its budget for the department’s body camera program. Much of that budget will be consumed by the storage needs associated with the program, according to a report from the Austin Monitor.
Sensing the overarching need for large amounts of storage across all the law enforcement and emergency management agencies throughout the state of Texas, Dale Richardson, chief operating officer of the Texas Department of Information Resources, lobbied the House Select Committee on Emerging Issues in Texas Law Enforcement on going the shared-services route.
“As we know, law enforcement agencies and other emergency management organizations are faced with increased need for acquisition, storage and secure sharing of digital investigation data,” said Richardson, according to the Monitor. “If we can leverage the economy of scale we have here, we can offer this as a shared service cheaper on a per-user basis to help offset some of those long-term storage costs.”
In the Constitution State, legislation governing the use of body cameras by police departments has already been passed. Unfortunately, the extra funding that local law enforcement requested for the storage required to support these programs was denied by the legislature, according to the Hartford Courant.
Law enforcement leaders are intrigued by the technology and supportive of its use, but with small IT staff and no extra funds to support it, their hands are tied.
“I have a small department. There is no way we could use these without hiring a full-time IT person, no matter if we rent storage space in the cloud or store the data ourselves,” said Rick Hayes, police chief in Putnam, Conn., a town of about 10,000 near the border with Rhode Island. “It's a question of money. Police departments were hoping the state legislature might appropriate more money for this.”
For other law enforcement agencies, even assessing what it might cost from a storage perspective is a challenge. The cameras have a fixed price but there are so many variables that can impact what a department incurs in storage costs.
“We're going to ask for it later this year. The cameras will probably cost about $120,000. I have no idea yet what storage will cost,” said Neil Dryfe, police chief in Cheshire, a 30,000-resident town about 25 miles south of Hartford.
While storage for video footage from body cameras won’t necessarily be inexpensive, there are strategies and policies that can be enacted to mitigate and manage costs.
In a guest column in Homeland Security Today, Ted Hayduk, a NetApp solution architect, outlined policies and strategies around footage retention that can help police departments and law enforcement agencies keep a lid on data costs:
In most cases, routine non-evidentiary video data can be subject to shorter retention times. Most daily footage used for management will be non-evidentiary videos that will play no part in an investigation or prosecution. Videos from these encounters, such as aiding a stranded motorist, will not require long-term storage. Evidentiary footage will need to be stored for longer times, and will often have to adhere to more stringent regulations affecting compliance and restricted access, making on-premises storage a more viable and potentially more affordable option.
By separating the kinds of footage they need to hold onto, law enforcement can establish clear retention policies that make sense for them. Assessing the severity of the infraction or crime is a good place to start:
The videos surrounding minor infractions, such as routine traffic tickets, do not have to be retained as long as [there is] video from more serious situations, such as ongoing investigations or…homicides. This variation in retention times equates to significant cost differentials. ... Many agencies may also assign a shorter storage-retention time for such videos — the most common retention time for non-evidentiary video for management use is between 30 to 90 days — significantly reducing data storage costs.
Either way, given the desire and need for policing to evolve and grow with the times, these questions around technology use — and the storage requirements that come with it — aren’t going away anytime soon.
To learn more about the future of policing, read our feature story, “Police Departments Turn to In-Car Video Cameras to Boost Accountability, Transparency” about policing in the digital age.