Body worn cameras (BWCs) are becoming common place in law enforcement. BWCs enable police to demonstrate transparency and accountability and BWCs can help improve citizen behavior. In addition, BWCs can significantly improve how evidence is collected by recording the visual and audio actions at crime scenes, the interrogations and the arrests; the captured recordings can provide essential evidentiary documentation for investigations and court proceedings.
According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) comprehensive research paper, “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned,” police executives say the expectation now is for police departments to use BWCs. “If your department has a civilian review board, the expectation now is that police should have cameras,” said Chief of Police Chris Burbank of Salt Lake City. “If you don’t, they will ask, ‘Why don’t your officers have cameras? Why aren’t your cameras fully deployed? Why does the next town over have cameras, but you don’t?’”
Add to the mix citizens who carry mobile devices that record video and the presence of public video security cameras, it’s quite likely interactions with police will be recorded somehow, and most police feel it’s best to own the recordings. Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice is quoted in the paper saying, “Some police departments are doing themselves a disservice by not using body worn cameras. Everyone around you is going to have a camera, and so everyone else is going to be able to tell the story better than you if you don’t have these cameras.”
The Body Camera Challenge
Onvia has a large database of procurement activity and spending plans from more than 80,000 entities in the U.S. We first reported on BWCs in May 2014 and due to many high-profile recent events, we reported in January 2015 on the increased activity for BWC purchases. Nearly a year after our first report, most everyone agrees that BWCs are a key component to an officer’s tool kit. The challenge facing many police departments now is developing a cost-effective, chain of custody system to properly collect and store video footage. PERF’s paper goes into detail regarding download & storage policies, recorded data access & review and policy & program evaluation. In a recent Government Computer News article, Raj Rana recommends agencies create a “chain of evidence” and highlights that the system include safeguards against video tampering, downloading, auditing, backup, indexing and metadata features.
Police departments are also grappling with how and when to publicly disclose BWC footage. The PERF research paper explains that in recent years, many agencies have been deploying BWCs worn by officers to “record encounters with the public; investigate officer-involved incidents; produce evidence; and strengthen agency performance, accountability, and transparency. While [BWCs] have the potential to improve police services, they also raise issues involving privacy, police-community relationships, procedural justice, and technical and cost questions, all of which agencies should examine as they consider this technology.” As reported by Bill Lucia in a Route Fifty article, cities are currently handling video disclosure in very different ways -- from full release with redaction solutions to blocking video access entirely.
Agency Bidding Trends
Recent bid & RFP opportunities found in Onvia’s Project Center reflect these rising concerns and provide answers to how agencies are detailing the handling, storage and controlled access of BWC video footage – and the cost. Many projects have extremely detailed specifications following PERF’s recommendations. Some require the inclusion of storage for in-car cameras as well as the BWCs, likely to save on cost and have a sole source for all video evidence.
Cloud-based solutions are becoming popular as a way to store large amounts of video. Cloud-based options can save on internal data storage costs and departmental staff, however they can get expensive and have security risks. PERF recommends that agencies carefully vet the vendor. In a March 30, 2015 American City and County article, Michael Keating reports on the Oakland Police Department’s search for a better way to manage a vast amount of footage from VIEVU BWCs. The Oakland IT Department is evaluating Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud platform where they can do the whole life-cycle management of video. The right cloud based solution can also offer a high level of security, needed redundancy and natural disaster risk mitigation. Open bids found in Onvia’s Project Center include specific requests for cloud-based solutions as well bids that will accept proposals for cloud or locally hosted systems.
Key Agency Considerations and Specifications for
Body Camera Video Footage
Leading Vendors and Solutions
Recently awarded contracts include BWCs and storage solutions. In one example:
Many police departments who have already purchased BWCs and rely on older infrastructure & servers now seek a way to efficiently streamline the process while keeping costs down. As mentioned, TASER provides digital evidence management software (DEMS) and storage; Digital Alley, provides software solutions and a cloud storage option. Wolfcom and L3 Mobile-Vision Inc. also provide proprietary digital evidence management. Others vendors form partnerships like VIEVU with Microsoft Azure Cloud and encourage buyers of VIEVU BWCs to upgrade to Azure. Vendors like QueTel Corporation and VeriPic (also a partner with VIEVU) specialize in offering evidence management and storage support, not the cameras.
Example of multi-vendor BWC and DEMS implementations include:
Looking Ahead to the Future
As agencies plan for future purchases, the cost of BWCs - along with specifications for cost-effective software management and secure storage - will be considered. Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center provides access to capital improvement plans and agency budgets that not only include future purchases of BWCs, but also the software, support and system to manage, store and access the footage.
Beyond the Camera: Striking the Right Balance in Policing
The importance of officers wearing BWCs seems to increase daily. While some state legislators are pushing for bills to make it harder to obtain police BWC videos, there are senators and U.S. representatives backing bipartisan legislation for the Police Camera Act. Regardless as to what video acquired from BWCs can and will be released to the public, when developing video storage policies, PERF writes that “agency leaders must balance privacy considerations with other factors, such as state law requirements, transparency, and data storage capacity and cost.” Beyond the initial purchase of BWCs, choosing the right software management and data storage solution, as well as implementing the proper evidentiary procedures, are extremely important for a proper chain of custody. In the PERF research paper’s opening letter, Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of PERF, writes, “If police departments deploy body-worn cameras without well-designed policies, practices, and training of officers to back up the initiative, departments will inevitably find themselves caught in difficult public battles that will undermine public trust in the police rather than increasing community support for the police.”
Onvia’s suite of business tools helps vendors of BWCs and related software, management systems, data storage and training find opportunities, identify the top buyers and top competitors, view BWC purchase orders, access multi-year contracts and future agency spending plans. With this intelligence, vendors can sell agencies the products and services they need to best implement and maintain a BWC chain of custody that benefits police, investigations, court proceedings and citizens.