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Any police officer or practitioner who has been in the profession for more than 10 years knows how much and how rapidly, law enforcement has changed in recent years. This evolution has been driven by developments in video technology and the advent of networked devices. These changes have created the need to manage vast quantities of collected data that needs to be stored, shared, organized ,and used for evidence in arrests and trials.

Video surveillance cameras have gained traction and are now an accepted presence in every type of facility and municipal environment. When a crime or other significant incident occurs, it is expected that it has been captured on some type of video surveillance system.

The arrival of body-worn cameras, introduced around 2005 in the United Kingdom, was a profound development in video surveillance. By 2014, these devices were becoming more common in the United States and are now regularly used to capture video and audio evidence in nearly any condition. In-car camera systems were another significant addition to the video landscape for law enforcement, with some capable of capturing 360 degrees of activity around an officer’s vehicle.

As the use of video for law enforcement applications continued to increase, it became evident that agencies would have to find new ways to deal with the massive amounts of acquired data. Initially stored data captured from in-car systems was measured in terabytes (1,000GB) but now has predominately increased to petabytes (1,000TB).

The Cloud Solution

Fortunately, at the same time data storage of video files was beginning to create a challenge for law enforcement agencies, cloud storage solutions became more available. Many organizations were already using the cloud to manage their rapidly expanding data storage and management due to its convenience and reliability. For law enforcement, cloud solutions provide the answer to these needs, along with many other important benefits.

On average, data storage requirements tend to double every two years, which presents a continually escalating problem for law enforcement agencies’ on-premises data storage systems. Cloud providers can solve this issue by delivering a scalable solution that accommodates the need for continually increasing storage capacities.

Maintaining the integrity and security of video evidence and other data is also a critical requirement. Data stored in massive data centers owned by cloud providers is far more secure than if it were stored locally on an officer’s device, an in-car system or a department server. Cloud data storage providers are required to comply with the highest cybersecurity and threat mitigation standards. A typical plan includes backup at more than one geographic location, ensuring data is not compromised even in the event of a disaster.

Support for Compliance

In order to sell services to law enforcement agencies, the cloud company must adhere to the security standards outlined by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy.

These standards include policies around data ownership and the use of third-party vendors to manage and store data. It should be stipulated in the contract with the cloud services provider that the law enforcement agency is the owner of all data, and if the agency or department terminates its contract with a cloud vendor, there should be a concrete procedure in place for transferring data to another server.

There are additional compliance considerations that require adherence, too. CJIS compliance is necessary if a video from a body-worn camera becomes evidence in a criminal case and/or evidence is subject to HIPAA compliance if it includes video recorded in a medical facility. Also, if any documentation includes information about an individual’s employment or income, it would fall under IRS 1075 compliance regulations.

With the massive volume of new video footage from body-worn cameras and in-car systems, there is a huge quantity of evidence that requires digital storage. Some states may also have regulations regarding minimum retention time for video from body-worn cameras and in-car systems. For example, Texas requires police camera footage to be retained for at least 90 days).

Other kinds of evidence being stored may include photographs, police reports and fingerprints and may originate from a wide variety of sources. During the course of a single case, this evidence may need to be shared with numerous parties, all of whom would require authentication each time they want to access the data.

The best technology to address these needs within a cloud framework should provide flexibility when it comes to managing the collection and storage of evidence. This includes the ability for officers and investigators to gather, maintain and share digital evidence from a variety of sources. The user should be able to review and share video and other data easily and conveniently from within their evidence management application.

Chain of Custody

Evidence used in arrests and trials is sometimes subject to authentication challenges. With the ease of creating deepfakes and other types of fabricated evidence, this is a problem that will only continue to grow. To leverage the value of video and other data, it is essential that law enforcement agencies always maintain verifiable oversight of their digital evidence.

The best cloud solutions for law enforcement enable agencies to retain complete ownership of all evidence and metadata with audit trails that log all user actions. Every piece of evidence has a digital footprint that includes every user who has touched it, the times and dates it was added or accessed, and other information that is essential to understanding each moment since the evidence was collected. This provides a thorough audit trail for any potential chain of custody disputes.

Cost Savings

Many law enforcement agencies are facing budget shortfalls and need to cut costs wherever possible. With so many new technologies being offered, it can become even more difficult to determine where to spend precious dollars. A cloud storage solution can help in several ways.

Typically, the cost for cloud storage is lower than on-premises data storage and the expense is an ongoing operating expenditure rather than a large capital investment. This can help agencies manage the cost of their rapidly growing storage needs. Additionally, cloud storage often comes with technology capabilities that a smaller agency may not be able to afford when using on-premises storage.

A Better Solution

The amount of highly sensitive video collected and managed by public safety and law enforcement agencies will only continue to grow as the use of body-worn cameras, in-car systems, surveillance cameras and other digital-evidence capture devices expands. Given that the current amount of data being compiled is considerable amount, the need for secure and scalable solutions to address this issue will continue to be a paramount concern for agencies.

A cloud-based evidence management system can deliver an ideal and cost-effective solution, allowing agencies to store, share and secure their digital evidence so that it is always available when needed.  

Bill Brennan is president of Panasonic i-PRO Sensing Solutions.

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