Police body camera videos seek new home
The Oakland, Calif., police department is evaluating a cloud-based platform for archiving videos generated by their officers’ body cameras. Ahsan Baig, Division Manager-Public Safety Services and Business Applications in the Oakland Information Technology Department, says the pilot project test will take at least three months to complete and a video platform vendor is selected.
Baig (photo below, on right) has been responsible for IT support and service delivery in Oakland since 2003. He has 21 years of experience in the private and public sectors in project management, systems engineering and integration, software development, communication network design and technical support.
The Oakland PD’s body camera and police video inventory has been growing since the department began using body cameras nearly five years ago. “We have more than 600 or 700 cameras. It’s a requirement that every officer has to wear the camera. We’ve been using them for a long time. We’ve probably got the biggest footprint of body-worn cameras in the U.S. at this time, and that’s the reason why our video storage needs have been growing phenomenally,” Baig explains.
He says the Oakland PD is trying to manage and control the department’s police video archives. “We are not at petabytes, but we will probably get there pretty soon. Today, we are probably at 150 to 200 terabytes.” A terabyte equals a thousand gigabytes of computer storage, while a petabyte equals a million gigabytes of computer storage. Baig says he can’t imagine putting Oakland’s entire police video inventory on a server at police headquarters.
“The Oakland PD has somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million videos,” Steve Ward told GPN. Ward is CEO and founder of Vievu, a Seattle-based manufacturer of police cameras. The Oakland PD is using Vievu’s line of body-worn cameras.
Oakland’s expanded use of body cams has had positive results, says Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. She told a San Francisco TV station last December that there’s been a “significant decrease” in use-of-force incidents by her community’s police officers since they began wearing body cameras about four and a half years ago. The mayor says the Oakland police force had 2,186 use-of-force incidents in 2009, the last year that no officers wore body cameras. The number declined to 836 such incidents in 2013 and to just 572 incidents in 2014 through mid-December.
Baig says, “We have been looking for better platforms where we can do the whole life-cycle management of video, since storing and moving video data is fairly expensive. We also want to leverage the other technologies where the platform could be used.”
The sensitive information on the videos demands a high level of security, Baig says. The Oakland PD is testing the Azure Government cloud offering, which was the first cloud platform to meet the compliance standards and agreements of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI (CJIS).
“Having the CJIS blessing, that was one of the requirements for video platforms in our test,” Baig says. “We had the help of our Department of Justice partners and state government partners in the process. They understand the department’s needs, and they understand that with the way that technology is moving, and the way that things are changing, that it makes more sense to rely more and more on cloud computing.”
Efficiently storing police videos can be daunting, Baig tells GPN. “Processing and archiving it, as well as moving the data across different networks and through different buildings — it’s a monumental task. So we need to get our heads wrapped around a better way to manage those video assets.”
Cloud-based platforms offer needed redundancy, Baig adds. “Thankfully, for larger agencies like the Oakland city government — they do make multiple copies on their servers, so they have all their videos backed up multiple times.” Every government and police agency is different. Some are smaller, and just store videos on one server or one hard drive. We advise against that, because you want to have multiple copies of everything,” Baig says.
A cloud-based system offers some protection against natural disasters, Baig says. “Say, all of my infrastructure is in one place and God forbid, we get hit by an earthquake, or some other disaster strikes, then you have a major potential risk. But by moving into the cloud and developing your SLA, your service level agreement — those steps can give your agency some geo-redundancy protection. I think that really gives you a risk mitigation approach to disasters.”
For government administrators that are in the process of selecting a video storage platform, Baig urges that they look at the scalability, security and ease of management of the vendors’ offerings. “The storing of video itself is one aspect, but to me the whole administration and management and protection of the data, as well as the whole back-end software that really manages the video asset — those are all very important to consider in the platform selection process.” He adds that administrators should look at the linking of data and the process of cataloging of video assets as they consider selecting a video storage platform.
Departmental policies covering video archives are also very important, Baig says. “How do you archive, how do you retain video, how long do you retain it — all those issues, of course, need to be addressed when an agency moves forward with purchasing video technology.”
Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.