Why police departments are moving to the cloud
Conserving cash is motivating police to go to the cloud, say respondents to a recent International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey. More than six out of every 10 them (61 percent) say that saving money was the biggest driver. Next on the list: More than half of the respondents (52 percent) say the cloud eliminates the need to acquire server software and hardware.
The cloud helps departments pinch pennies, says David McDonald, former deputy chief commander of the Metropolitan Police Department (Washington, DC). “Saving money is the biggest driver, along with ease of managing applications. The cloud removes the need to build and maintain data centers in the agency facility. Administrative responsibility can also be transferred to the host company or application provider. Public safety agencies don’t need to worry about operating systems, end of life or hardware updates. All this work is handled by the provider.”
McDonald is now vice president of public safety at Huntsville, Ala.–based Intergraph. The firm is a provider of public safety software. The company is working with Microsoft to deploy its web-based records management system, inPURSUIT WebRMS on the Microsoft Azure government-community cloud service.
Yes, saving money is a key consideration, says Randy Gaines, a senior project manager for Decatur, Ga.-based Utility Associates and a retired NYPD detective (photo at right). “The cloud will play a major role in modern policing by offloading the cost and risk of running a highly secure and backed-up video storage system. He explains: “Cloud-based storage can provide automatic data replication across multiple data centers, and often costs less when compared to the fully loaded cost of hardware, software, 24×7 support staff, cybersecurity software and support staff required when a police department runs its own internal video data storage.” A setup through a cloud provider, Gaines adds, can help ensure dependable disaster recovery capability.
The IACP survey shows at least some responding police departments (16 percent) are going to the cloud because they believe it is more secure. Meanwhile, among those agencies that indicated they are not now considering cloud computing, 44 percent expressed concerns that cloud-based services do not provide sufficient security for their information systems and data.
Yes, securing police data and video is important. Gaines says agencies may not have the resources. “Not through any fault of a police department, but few departments are of the size and scale necessary to cost-justify the staffing and resources required to store and secure sensitive legal video evidence on a 24 x 7 x 365-day basis.”
Gaines adds that police agencies often can’t cost-justify a hardened data center with redundant power supply sources, redundant internet access points, physical security to prevent entry into the building and comprehensive audit trail reporting of who accessed the data center and when, as well as continuous cybersecurity monitoring and response.
And don’t forget the staffing and skill levels needed to ensure data is secure on-premise at police HQ, Gaines says. “In contrast to a cloud service provider, the average police department is often not able to cost-effectively provide highly qualified server management and cybersecurity expertise on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis. Often government pay scales make it difficult to recruit and retain the skills required.”
Cloud service providers are focused 100 percent on meeting the security requirements of their law enforcement clients, Gaines adds. “The success of their business depends upon providing secure, reliable, and fast-response time service on a 24 x 7 x 365 days-per-year basis. Cloud service providers can scale up server resources as needed to guarantee high performance and reliability for performing chain of custody validation processing, replication, backup, and recovery.”
Yes, public safety uses of cloud-based solutions are increasing. With the rise in body-worn cameras and other types of video, the need for storage alone is driving agencies toward the cloud, McDonald says.
Case in point: Eric Blanchard, police chief in Aransas Pass, Texas, (population 8,329) says his department has archived between 2 and 4 terabytes of video from body cams that officers wear. A terabyte equals a thousand gigabytes. Blanchard’s department has already moved to cloud-based video archiving. Click here to read about Chief Blanchard’s experience.
McDonald is also seeing an increase in requests for cloud-based software to provide lower costs for implementation and application management. “Public safety answer points (PSAPs) are beginning to request cloud-based computer-aided dispatch systems so that disaster recovery is easier and more functional. Police departments are requesting that record management systems move to the cloud, so they don’t have to worry about system deployment or data management.” Cloud-based applications, concludes McDonald, “offer public safety agencies deployment flexibility and lower upfront costs to acquire.”
Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.