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What you need to know when planning your BWC program

The most critical aspects aren’t always obvious


Make sure you are ready to deploy the most effective BWC from day one.

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The following is paid sponsored content by CDW-G.

By Tim Dees for Police1 BrandFocus

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” That statement is particularly true when planning your agency’s body-worn camera (BWC) program.

It is essential managers for body-worn camera projects research all the different aspects of a BWC before choosing a product suite to meet their needs.

In fact, selecting a camera vendor and model is one of the simplest parts of the process. Far more complex, and critical, is the planning for how all the video produced by those cameras will be stored, secured, managed and retrieved.

Make sure to follow the five steps below when planning your BWC program to ensure it is most effective the day the first camera goes live.

Develop your policy first.

“There are several questions you need to ask your agency’s leadership about polices and legality,” said Houston Thomas who works with public safety operations in the southeast U.S., helping them create systems to handle the output of BWCs and other digital data. Thomas also works as a CDW-G consultant.

A basic element is when officers will be required to activate the cameras. Having them active on every citizen contact, anytime the officer is out of the car, will generate a huge volume of video.

“The policy should be practical and unambiguous,” Thomas said. “You will want to involve your police officers’ association or other bargaining groups in forming this policy.”

Another consideration is whether officers will be permitted to review video before preparing their reports.

“There are arguments on both sides of this issue, but most agencies allow their officers to see their camera output to ensure the most accurate reports possible,” Thomas said.

Determine how long you will retain video evidence.

The next question to ask is how long your agency plans to retain video and other data.

“Your prosecutor’s office and/or risk manager can provide guidance on retention policies,” Thomas said. “Some states mandate the minimum retention time for video and other documentary evidence.”

In formulating this policy, remember that the output from BWCs quickly grows to terabytes and petabytes (1024 terabytes) of digital files, far exceeding the capacity of most desktop computers.

Managing this huge quantity of data is far more involved than just buying more hard disks.

You have to consider how the data will be transferred from the BWCs to the storage system, how to get the video to the users who need access to it, setting security protocols and establishing backups to guard against catastrophic events like fires or floods.

Develop a strategy for moving data from the BWCs to storage and vice versa.

There are several options, including using a docking port in the patrol car to load video onto a computer drive, and then transferring the video from the car to the station wirelessly.

“This requires considerable bandwidth on the agency’s Wi-Fi network, more than you may have available to avoid bottlenecks,” Thomas said. “The challenge is greater if most of the downloads are taking place at shift change, when the majority of the cars are at the station.”

You also can use docking stations at the station, or even at the officer’s home, using his or her internet connection.

“Not all officers may have internet access at their homes, or the access may lack the necessary bandwidth or security,” Thomas said. “These are areas you need to clarify before implementation.”

Consider what analytical capabilities you will need.

Many agencies require supervisors to review a portion of the video from their officers’ cameras every month or so.

“Not all video management systems provide audit tools to determine whether supervisors are reviewing the video when they should,” Thomas indicated. “If you are going to require this, you’ll need to ensure you can monitor the reviewing function.”

He also said it is useful to be able to locate video captured in the vicinity of certain geographic coordinates, and between date/times X and Y.

“Make sure your video management system enables you to do that,” he said.

If the appropriate GPS data is not indexed with your recordings, this will be unavailable to you without manual searches.

Set sharing and security standards.

You have to ask yourself several questions when setting sharing and security standards.

The questions include:

  • Will you back up everything or just data associated with pending cases?
  • Will the backups be in the cloud or local?
  • What media will you use: arrays of hard drives, flash drives, DVDs?
  • How will you distribute the data?

If you have the bandwidth, infrastructure and funding, cloud storage seems to be a logical option. Every BWC vendor offers a video management solution that meshes perfectly with their gear. They usually store most or all of the video in the cloud, which are remotely-located servers leased from companies like Microsoft, Google or IBM and accessible via the internet.

Because the cloud is infinitely expandable, it works for some agencies. However, agencies also can store data onsite.

Setting up a BWC program isn’t an easy process. It will take time and planning. But keeping these five tips in mind will help you have the most effective program from day one.

For more information about body worn cameras and planning, contact CDW-G.

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.