3 Questions Worth Asking about Your Community’s Proposed Body Camera System

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Introduction

The useful life of a body-worn camera for a police department is roughly three years. Yet, the useful life of the evidence it captures can extend far beyond that point. To act in the community’s best interest, look past the initial purchase when considering a new body camera system. Cast a keen eye on the long-term relationship with the body camera manufacturer.

The evidence management system provided by the body camera manufacturer keeps track of all the saved video events captured by the cameras. This software allows you to search, play and share footage with other people like a district attorney. The system you choose will play this critical role until all videos reach their retention requirement. Suffice to say, with new videos entering the system all the time, that day is never reached.

The following information provides three topic areas where seeking understanding will help you make an informed business decision about your relationship with your new body-camera system provider.

Understanding How and Where You’ll Manage and Store Evidence

There are three ways to provision an evidence management system: in-vehicle, on-premise or in the cloud. With in-vehicle provisioning, the evidence management software installs on a patrol vehicle’s Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) or laptop. The software performs all necessary functions on the device, including video storage. This method is often attractive to agencies with a take-home car policy. Days, sometimes weeks, can pass before an officer returns to headquarters.

On-premise provisioning puts the evidence management system on a centralized computer server owned by the police department or city. Any authorized user can access the system using a web browser and network connection. Recorded video events are usually, but not always, stored onsite. This method is attractive to agencies whose officers return daily to a central station or network-connected substation. Likewise, these agencies have existing computing services (servers, storage, staff) supporting other enterprise applications.

Cloud-based provisioning means the camera manufacturer has placed the evidence management system in the cloud. It is available to authorized users through a web browser. This has similar benefits to on-premise but appeals to agencies that choose not to leverage (or don’t have) existing computing services and staff already in place. Recorded video events are saved to the manufacturer’s cloud storage provider.

All three types of provisioning the system are popular in the market today.

Questions to Ask

  • What options are available and have been considered for provisioning the evidence management system?
  • Why is the department recommending the approach?
  • How might the agency migrate from one approach to another in the future if it chooses?

Attempt to Avoid

Manufacturers who offer only one method (with no plans to develop another) have charted a specific course for their business. This could be an indicator of the lack of choice you may experience throughout the relationship. Manufacturers like this force you to adapt to the way they do business instead of the other way around.

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Understanding User Fees

Body camera manufacturers charge for the ongoing use and maintenance of the evidence management system. The two approaches used to calculate these charges are device-based and user-based.

Device-based charges count the number of body cameras (devices) authorized to use the system. User-based charges count the number of people authorized to use the system.

It’s important to understand the method and the impact of each. Why? Because officers aren’t the only ones who use evidence management systems. Supervising officers, training officers, detectives, evidence managers, system administrators, command staff, and Internal Affairs Representatives are potential users. Anyone who has a need to view a video is a user.

Example

Agency A has 25 officers who are each assigned a body camera. The agency has determined there will be 45 people needing to use the system, of which 25 are the officers.

Manufacturer X charges $100 per month for each device on the system.
25 devices x $100 = $2,500 total monthly device-based charge.

Manufacturer Y charges $75 per month for each user of the system.
45 users x $75 = $3,375 total monthly user-based charge.

Questions to Ask

  • Will the agency be charged by device or by user (or both) for the evidence management system?
  • If by user, how many users beyond officers are in the total?
  • How have you planned for user growth past the first year?

Attempt to Avoid

In the excitement of a body camera project, agencies can forget the many casual users who need access to the evidence management system. The ratio of body cameras to system users is rarely one-to-one. Attempt to avoid user-based pricing. If not possible, make sure you forecast the number of users required over the term of the manufacturer’s contract.

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Understanding What Happens if You Want to Change Providers

Evidence management systems play, manage and share video captured by the manufacturer’s cameras. To that end, the software is proprietary.

However, most evidence management systems can export video to industry standard video formats. This is how videos from different camera systems can be played in a courtroom. But what if important data like officer name, time and coordinates, and video location within the database is stripped away when exporting video?

Such can be the case if you end the evidence management system contract with the manufacturer. Either through unwillingness or inability, the manufacturer may provide unformatted video evidence, rendering the videos unsearchable.

Questions to Ask

  • Upon termination of the contract, how will the agency retrieve evidence stored in the evidence management system – and at what cost?
  • Upon termination of the contract, how long does the agency have to make alternate arrangements to store video evidence?
  • Upon termination of the contract, how will the agency continue to search, view and export the retrieved video?

Attempt to Avoid

Avoid contracts or relationships with manufacturers that provide no reasonable means to search, view and export your own video evidence upon termination.

Read: Is Your Agency a Good Candidate for Cellular Upload of Video?