The hidden challenge behind body cams -- storage

An open source, software-defined storage solution helped a small town manage its body-worn camera and surveillance data.

Police departments across the country are increasingly deploying body-worn cameras to better protect and serve their communities. Nearly every large police department in a nationwide survey said they plan to move forward with BWCs, with 95 percent  having either implemented a body camera system or committed to doing so. 

Their most commonly cited benefits are improving the relationships and transparency between police departments and the community, increasing professionalism, and saving money related to internal investigations and lawsuit settlements. Two-thirds of police and 93 percent of the public said they believe BWCs should be used to record interactions between officers and members of their communities, according to a recent Pew Research report.

Major cities, such as Baltimore and San Diego, have rolled out thousands of body cameras with initially positive results. The San Diego Police Department’s field study with Axon found that complaints fell by 41 percent, total allegations dropped by 60 percent and the use of “personal body force” was reduced by 47 percent.

However, medium-sized police departments (those with about 50 - 250 officers) appear to be facing the biggest challenges with when rolling out BWCs to their forces. The major issue is cost -- not just for the actual cameras, but for handling the data the cameras produce. The demands for video storage are unprecedented for many police departments, which don't have enough space on servers or hard drives to store the additional data.  Storage costs can reach up to $2 million annually for a police department, as a recent Police Executive Research Forum pointed out.

Scaling storage in upstate New York

Home to the Buffalo Bills football stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.,  is a town located just outside of Buffalo. When the Bills are at home, there is a sharp increase in the number of officers deployed because the larger, temporary population increases the likelihood of incidents that require police attention.

When the police department decided to introduce body cameras for on-duty officers, the department had to navigate the challenges of storing large amounts of data, especially on fall Sundays when footage would spike. A grant from the Department of Justice paid for half of the cameras, but the department was on its own to when it came to updating its infrastructure to store video data and retrieve and stream footage.

The department’s network modernization had to meet two key challenges. First, the system had to meet legal mandates that required it to retain video data for various periods of time, from as few as 30 days to permanent storage. The network also needed to store both data from mounted surveillance cameras and operational data from town employees. For a small-town police department, this was a complicated video environment with high potential for escalating costs.

Orchard Park is now using software-defined storage to help the police economically store large volumes of data with limited resources. SDS is an approach to data storage in which the programming that controls storage-related tasks is decoupled from the physical storage hardware, enabling the use of industry standard hardware.  It allowed the department to economically store footage from more cameras and to retain additional data for legal purposes. Solutions like SDS are increasingly coming out of the open source community, which harnesses the engineering strength of thousands of active developers, controls costs and fosters innovation.

With its new storage system up and running, Orchard Park is now supporting surveillance cameras, body cameras and operational data from 20 of the town’s departments. The network is also supporting surveillance devices that help keep the town’s police officers and citizens safe.

The majority of the law enforcement community agrees that BWCs are a net positive, but for local governments, it’s the scalable costs that are getting in the way. In the end, it’s about police officers protecting individuals and bringing greater transparency to their communities. Government organizations must understand the variety of camera and storage options available to keep everyone safe without busting law enforcement budgets.

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