How Storage, Image Management Helps Fights Crime

The Anaheim Police Department has one of the most advanced data storage and image management systems in the country today thanks to the help of Linear Systems, a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based systems integrator of digital image management solutions.

Often called the "Disney Police" because of its proximity to Disneyland and California Disney, the APD is no Mickey Mouse operation. Instead, the department can quickly process, store, and call up digital images related to local crime scenes. Those images are stored in an infrastructure that includes an on-site capacity of 20 Tbytes, which is five times the storage capacity of the rest of the city of Anaheim, with another 20 Tbytes of mirrored data sitting offsite for disaster recovery purposes. It is also in the process of adding 70 Tbytes of BluRay disk for archiving.

In January, Everything Channel had the opportunity to go behind the scenes with the Anaheim Police Department and Linear Systems. Guiding the tour was, from left to right, Chris Parsons, president of Linear Systems; Stephen Monteros, COO of Linear Systems; and James Conley, forensics services supervisor in the Investigations Division of the APD.

Linear Systems works with about 400 police agencies around the country. Its largest customer is the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which currently has two 100-Tbyte systems for storing 2 million original images, or about 8 million total images with copies.

Conley, shown here next to the Anaheim Police Department's forensics computer systems, a long-term officer, became a forensics supervisor 13 years ago when the department was still dealing with camera film.

In 1998, when the APD first started working with digital cameras, one of the first questions Conley asked was how to store the images. About that time, a meeting with Linear Systems convinced him he needed some type of digital management system.

Conley eventually used a dramatic gesture to convince his superiors that they needed to invest in a system that would not quickly become obsolete.

"When we met, I had an 8-inch floppy disk, a 5-1/4-inch floppy disk, a Zip disk, and a couple others," he said. "I threw them all on the table and said, 'Here, pick your technology. And oh, this is no longer available, and this is no longer available.' They got the point."

Obscelence is the primary concern when going with digital audio and digital images, Conley said. "We went with DIMS because we could see that for 10 years we'd be OK," he said. "We also knew that in five years from that time, we'd need to look at this again."

The two racks to Conley's right house the APD's system for storing finger prints, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The AFIS is separate from the Linear Systems' Digital Imaging Management System (DIMS) for storing digital photos, which is in the rack on the far left.

The AFIS is a proprietary system from another integrator which can hold up to 800,000 fingerprint records, and currently stores 300,000 records. Each record, which takes up about 2 Mbytes of storage, is made up of 14 images, including one roll for each of a suspect's 10 fingers, plus one "flat" of all four fingers pressed at once and a "flat" thumbprint for each hand.

Before AFIS, the Anaheim Police Department stored fingerprints on paper. The last paper record was added to this "storage system" in 2000. All the records here were scanned into AFIS starting in 1996.

Parsons looks at the AFIS, which is separate from his company's DIMS, and sees future business possibilities. "There is no reason why its records could not be part of the DIMS some time in the future," he said.

Linear Systems developed the DIMS software, and integrates it with industry-standard hardware. Customers include police departments around the country. One example is the system at the Anaheim Police Department, shown here.

Everything in DIMS is based on standards, Parsons said. For instance, he said, homicide records need to be stored forever, while other types of images have their own lifestyles.

"Ninety percent of agencies using digital imaging are not in compliance with standards," Parsons said. "Anaheim is one of those on top of standards for controlling access, logging in who does what. There is a lot of liability out there if things get released, a lot of ambulance chasers out there looking for those kinds of opportunities.

The APD uses digital cameras with 8 million pixels of resolution. All photos have to be stored in their native resolution, without compression, to ensure that no tampering has been done, Conley said.

Each raw photo is about 66 MBytes in size. To speed up officers' work, a working copy of each photo is also made at a reduced size of 12 MBytes. Two copies of the raw photo and two copies of the working copy are stored, one each in this DIMS system, and one off-site.

"Everything is duplicated off-site," Parsons said. "Disaster recovery is important. A lot of agencies haven't thought a lot about things like this."

The server is a custom-built model based on Intel quad-core processors. Linear Systems' software, which is based on a specialized distribution tuned to image management, was just re-compiled to run on the quad-core, and is now being tested to work with dual quad-core processor servers.

The arrays are custom-built using a southern California-based system builder that Linear Systems declined to name, and include RAID controllers from QLogic, of Aliso Viejo, Calif. that can be configured for RAID 50 or RAID 60. "They're pretty expensive," Monteros said. "The builder uses a special power supply for us that can handle a high load with bigger mean time between failure."

Linear is also modifying its software with a new module to handle the storage, retrieval, and archiving of audio files to go with the digital photographs and other records, Monteros said.

When an officer returns from a crime scene with photos in his or her digital camera, those photos are downloaded into DIMS using this DIMS Download Station, a workstation which like the DIMS storage system is built using industry-standard components. It includes a device that can read data from several types of memory cards as well as from USB devices.

Because of how DIMS stores photos and audits access to those photos, the only single point of failure in the Anaheim Police Station's digital archive is the CF or SP card in an officer's digital camera, Conley said.

"Once the card is plugged into the reader, we now have multiple copies of the images," he said. "And once the officer exits the system, the card is erased so the officer can't keep the image. He or she can't take the image home, or sell it."

Parsons said DIMS was designed so officers can use it without training. In fact, he said, the only really complicated part is the programming needed to ensure that the images are safely stored and that access is restricted.

"What's complicated is the chain of custody," he said. "It's taken us 14 years to develop. Anybody can do this for a small agency. But for a larger agency like Anaheim, it's extremely complicated."

The big difference between Linear Systems and other integrators is in how their products work with their customers, Conley said.

"Other vendors make us change to fit their systems," he said. "DIMS is changing to fit us."

Conley uses this workstation to access images related to crime cases. The digital images are stored in a MySQL database, which is searchable by case number, photographer, type of case, location, or even an officer's notes.

"I can just click on a file, and I get thumbnails," he said. "I then double-click on a thumbnail, and I get the full photo. Each photo has its own watermark."

The DIMS locks access to photos and audits the images in order to ensure the chain of custody and determine who accesses something that is extremely sensitive, Conley said. "This is very important for our Internal Affairs Division," he said.

Before the Anaheim Police Department implemented digital cameras and DIMS, all film was processed on this AGFA film processor.

The AGFA system is still in use for processing film for other local police departments who need help. However, Conley said, the APD has connected it to DIMS, and uses it mainly for printing photos and making CDs of photos for use in specific cases. "District Attorneys today are using PowerPoints for court cases," he said. "Everybody's going digital."

Linear Systems plans to make it easier for its police agency customers to go more digital in the future. Monteros said his company is in the process of adding audio capability to its system, and also has the ability to store digital videos as well.

"Video is typically the last part to be implemented," Monteros said. "We're looking at adding new forms, like Taser-cams. When an officer aims a Taser, it starts the recording in case there is an issue with undue force."