How Lawrence PD’s cloud-based body-worn camera program reflects changes in law enforcement in America
Deputy Chief Gary Woodruff discusses how the future of policing will rely upon cameras, video and data management in the cloud
By Police1 BrandFocus Staff
The Lawrence, Indiana Police Department’s body-worn camera program, which recently won the Amazon Web Services City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge, is an example of how technology can bolster the effectiveness of a police force. The city’s cloud-based body-worn camera program has allowed Lawrence PD to improve efficiency as well as better serve its citizens. It also reflects a changed landscape in American policing as departments move toward digital evidence collection and storage and deal with the issues involved in that shift.
Deputy Chief Gary Woodruff sees body-worn camera programs as inevitable and believes that in two to five years, body-worn cameras will be as universal as the badge, uniform, or gun.
“No officer is going to work in the field without one,” said Deputy Chief Woodruff. “This is the direction that law enforcement is going. It gives officers an opportunity to show how well they’re doing and to bolster and improve the relationship between the police and the community by showing a willingness to improve.”
How the program fits together
Lawrence PD uses a three-camera system: one body-worn camera, one dashboard camera, and one rear patrol car camera. All three are automatically linked together. The hardware is provided by BodyWorn by Utility while Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides storage in the cloud. Leveraging the AWS Cloud means that all data is stored in a CJIS-compliant manner.
Operation requires little effort from the officers on patrol. The interface is user-friendly, and when data is recorded on any of the cameras, it is transferred automatically to a router in the patrol car and the three cameras’ recordings are linked together. When that vehicle goes to one of several predetermined waypoints around Lawrence, all data is automatically uploaded to the cloud.
Similarly, if multiple officers are all on scene for an incident, all video from those officers is cross-referenced when the data is stored, reducing the time required of officers to archive their data or look up evidence later. Automatic upload means more time policing, a benefit to taxpayers and the officers on the streets.
“It’s an imperative to spend tax payer money as efficiently as we can,” said Woodruff. “When we have something like this that saves time and money, it makes sense to invest.”
Woodruff sees the adoption of body-worn cameras, as well as the infrastructure that supports them, as more than just a change of tools. Instead, he sees possibilities for improved policing. These changes fall into three main categories.
1. Improvement through assessment
For one, says Woodruff, body cameras are positioned to greatly improve policing as an assessment tool. Being able to see what you’ve done in real-life situations, as well as the outcomes, and assess your success and areas of improvement will be a central part of police training in the future.
It’s a tool for trainers to use with officers, says Woodruff, but it’s also a tool officers can use to improve themselves. “Seeing what you did right and what you did wrong and being able to go back and see things that you don’t notice in the heat of the moment provide great learning opportunities,” he said.
2. A tool for de-escalation
Body-worn cameras are a great tool for de-escalation. The mere presence of the camera has been a motivating factor in calming tensions that might otherwise have flared up, says Woodruff. Anecdotally, officers have reported that simply pointing toward the camera has turned an uncooperative suspect threatening the officer into a compliant one.
“It evens the playing field when you have an independent ‘third witness,’” he said. “This helps officers as well as citizens avoid compromising situations. It is especially true in the often explosive domestic violence situations.”
3. Interagency Collaboration
Joint incident command situations, such as natural disasters or major sporting events, are one area where Woodruff sees potential for improvement by sharing information through cloud-based body-worn camera programs. In situations that require inter-agency cooperation, up-to-the-minute intelligence becomes valuable, and the ability to both collect – and share – information in real time is advantageous.
“By creating a shared perspective, unified command can set up a geofence and automatically activate cameras, providing real-time intel on situations,” he said. “Imagine being able to see where crowds are developing and immediately make decisions to compensate.”
In many ways, Lawrence PD is moving in a direction that reflects the course departments across the country are taking. By looking toward the future and considering how these new technologies can be leveraged to build stronger community relations, improve officer efficiency and performance, and protect officers on the streets, Lawrence PD is laying the groundwork for a stronger, more agile police force in the years to come.
The body-worn cameras, the could-based data storage, all of the infrastructure are, in that sense, a means to an end. Ultimately, this adoption of new technology isn’t about new gadgets, it’s about the age-old question how agencies can continue to improve the services they offer the public.