The storage challenge for body-worn camera video

Agencies considering implementing a body-worn camera program need a scalable, secure data storage infrastructure.

A growing number of law enforcement agencies across the United States are starting to use body-worn cameras. The International Association of Chiefs of Police  has noted that BWCs can help increase officer safety and provide documentation of traffic violations, citizen behavior and other events. They can also reduce court time and prosecutorial burden, provide video evidence for use in internal investigations, help study patterns of behavior, train police officers, establish better relationships with citizens and possibly prevent crimes.

While most discussions of BWCs focus on the cameras and recordings themselves, an often-overlooked challenge lies in the less-visible part of the solution: data storage. Storing hundreds of hours of weekly police video of any type can put significant financial and technological strain on a police department, but BWC footage poses a unique storage challenges. Whereas 1-2 percent of fixed camera video footage and 2-3 percent of dashboard camera footage on average is kept beyond the standard retention period and used for further evidentiary analysis, for BWC footage, the amount of retained video jumps to 4-6 percent, putting an additional strain on data storage capabilities.

Agencies using BWCs also must be able to efficiently categorize and archive all the video evidence in their system, so they should look for an efficient data storage infrastructure that provides:

  • Continuous access to digital video evidence with high reliability and 99.999 percent availability.
  • Secure sharing of video evidence with authorized users.
  • Sufficient bandwidth capacity to integrate third-party video evidence applications.
  • Data integrity, secure access and compliance with retention policies.
  • Secure backup.
  • Cost-effective scalability.

Meeting these requirements is not easy. State and local jurisdictions as well as law enforcement decision makers considering an efficient and affordable solution should consider a strategy that addresses the following challenges:

Data policies for data retention. Regulatory compliance mandates and internal policies mean that agencies must retain data for weeks, months and sometimes years. Longer retention periods requires more storage capacity, more sophisticated management systems and more trained staff. Trying to store large quantities of data in existing infrastructure can create system slowdowns and thus require more attention from IT staff.

Each municipality has a different policy about the retention of video data, but some can require agencies to store video data for as long as five years. Shortening retention times can have a dramatic effect on the volume of stored data and the cost. Retaining in-car video footage for 60 days, for example, requires 1.5 petabytes of storage, but a 45-day storage policy reduces requirements by 300TB.

Shared costs to address budget challenges.  With data storage costs already consuming 25 to 50 percent of total IT budget for most public-sector agencies, implementing a BWC system that meets all the requirements for sufficient, manageable storage can be expensive. Additional costs include on-premise data security and salaries for staff with sufficient training and expertise to maintain and operate the technology.

Some police departments have worked with other municipalities’ police departments or other public agencies to share storage costs, which has helped to reduce expenses. Another safe way to meet storage requirements is through secure multi-tenancy in a private cloud.

Cloud storage to keep up with product advancements. Improvements in video camera technology have resulted in less costly camera equipment that provides higher quality images, leading agencies to deploy more cameras and thus generate more data. But better video resolution (such as megapixel and HDTV cameras) and higher frame rates means that the volume of video data can easily exceed the capacity and performance capabilities of an infrastructure that was originally designed for traditional operational needs. And looking at new technologies, agencies must determine the image quality they need to accomplish their mission. A resolution of 70-80 pixels per foot (PPF) generally captures enough data for evidentiary purposes. Resolutions of 100 PPF and greater don’t produce much better images to the human eye, but such a difference in resolution can require significantly more storage.

Just as there have been improvements in video technology, there have been strides in storage solutions thanks to the cloud. Many jurisdictions have turned to cloud storage solutions when their existing infrastructure could no longer meet the needs of BWC-related data storage. And cloud technology gives municipalities  much-needed flexibility.

Hybrid cloud to address volume of video footage.  Video is quickly becoming the biggest consumer of IT resources for all kinds of organizations, and unstructured data, which includes video, is set to account for 80 percent of all data growth in the next five years.

A hybrid cloud lets organizations integrate  enterprise-class data management and control with the flexibility, speed and economics of the public cloud. A jurisdiction can create a secure, tiered storage solution that stores recent video data locally and sends the rest of the data encrypted to the cloud, making it an ideal solution for managing vast amounts of footage. Such a system lets jurisdictions tap into the best cloud economics while maximizing investments in existing on-premises infrastructures and lowering the total cost of operations.

BWC use across police departments will only continue to grow in importance. In 2016, 22 states and the District of Columbia are considering body camera legislation, and 25 states have created laws for BWCs. Police departments should not neglect data management issues that come with storing such large amounts of data. It is imperative that agencies have a high-performance, dense, scalable storage solution to achieve this task.

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