Violence in Baltimore Shines Light On IT Challenges Around Body Cameras

A series of violent incidents involving police has left some public officials clamoring for body cameras on officers, but IT experts caution that implementation will be expensive and difficult.

The call for body cameras has been renewed since Freddie Gray, 25, of Baltimore died April 19 after a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. After his death, which follows the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., arson, rock-throwing and looting have overtaken several Baltimore neighborhoods in recent days.

"Due to some unfortunate circumstances occurring now in the nation, this is where the politicians are pushing us," said David Moses, Verizon's national manager for public safety strategy and solutions, Wednesday during Synnex's Red, White & You public sector event. "They're trying to get all law enforcement officers with body-worn cameras out there interacting with the public."

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But body-worn cameras create challenges unanticipated by many public officials around video transmission, secure access to footage, and storage for the massive amount of data being created, Moses said.

Kathy Pakkebier, president of Synnex partner PCS Mobile in Denver, said municipalities are allocating police money away from mobile workstations and using it instead for body cameras even though detailed plans have not yet been developed.

"All they're doing is answering the public outcry for additional technology," she said.

Too many cities and towns are thinking about only the initial $500 to $900 expense for the body cameras without considering maintenance-related expenses, she said. And once the body cameras are deployed, Pakkebier said, cities and towns would face significant backlash if they were to stop being used.

Howard Mandel, president of Cincinnati-based Synnex partner mobileTEK, agreed with Pakkebier, adding that most of the expense associated with body cameras isn't the devices themselves, but rather the cost of storage and transmission. He added that the potential for human error is huge, especially if officers are responsible for turning the cameras on and off before and after interacting with civilians.

"You're getting ready to move into a moving market," Mandel said.

Mandel said he hopes that the federal and state governments will take the lead when it comes to deploying body cameras so that they can help smaller police departments figure out best practices. Even though momentum around body cameras is slowly picking up steam, Mandel doesn't expect to see widespread deployments in his area anytime soon.

Solution providers supporting departments using body-worn cameras must ensure the footage being recorded is securely uploaded into a secure cloud or on-premise storage site and can be viewed only by those who have received prior authorization, Moses said.

"It's one thing to have everyone streaming video up to YouTube, posting it everywhere -- that's what the citizens are doing with all these incidents out there," Moses said. "But, as was mentioned before, you've got to get the amount of security that law enforcement and first responders need to have."

Video recorded by body-worn cameras today is either docked until the end of the shift and then transferred at the police precinct, or transferred during down time at a fleet garage or via WiFi, Moses said. Other body camera video is recorded at the edge of the network and then downloaded in areas with better reception using an LTE (high-speed data) connection, he said.

Although many in the public are calling for a live-stream connection from body cameras, Moses said that would likely be a costly proposition with minimal return, as much of the footage would be coming from empty areas where nothing is occurring.

Solution providers also need to come up with a way to adjust the frame rate and compression of the video so that the footage is high-definition only when the departments need it that way and not all the time.

If the body cameras aren't running all the time, the channel partners of police departments need to be concerned with how the recording is being triggered, Moses said, whether it's through remote activation, event control, or the officer turning a switch on or off.

After that, VARs must ascertain if the cameras link into the existing system, Moses said, along with whether the footage is going to be reviewed using video analytics or human monitoring.

As for the storage itself, Moses said, solution providers must help law enforcement officials figure out how long the video is going to be stored, the chain of custody for the videos, and whether the video database will be searchable. The key to success, Moses said, is coming up with solutions that both fit the present need and will continue to deliver value in the future.

"The proliferation of worn cameras is going to create massive amounts of data," he said.

And that could be a good thing, Moses said, if all of the data created from the cameras is properly analyzed by the departments to better predict where crime will be occurring in the future.

Greenville, S.C., has had body cameras on its 15 downtown officers for several years, former Police Chief Mike Gambrell told workshop attendees. Most of the city's remaining officers have in-car cameras, but Gambrell said the downtown officers typically patrol either on foot or by bike.

The recent officer-involved shootings are also likely to prompt law enforcement departments to invest in better computer simulations to use for training, Gambrell said.

The proper technology can help officers simulate real-life circumstances and ensure that officers are following the use-of-force continuum, meaning that the level of force they employ correlates with the amount of force civilians are using against them.