Why cops should be using cloud storage to organize digital evidence
Here's how cloud storage can help you make sense of the data and make it easily accessible when you need it
Law enforcement agencies are using digital video evidence more frequently than ever before. This kind of forward thinking for law enforcement agencies can help prevent and defend against citizen complaints, as well as frivolous and expensive litigation, according to Sergeant Fred Marziano of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department in San Rafael (Calif.). He supervises the Technology Services Unit and has directed several projects throughout his assignment to the division.
With the introduction of officer-worn body cameras, Marziano said, the manner in which agencies choose to store the data captured on these cameras is of the utmost importance.
When in-car video cameras first came about, the average officer would record about two hours of video during a 10-hour shift. A VHS tape could hold the captured patrol activities of approximately three or four shifts before it was logged into evidence.
“Cameras have evolved from vehicle mounted VHS recording devices to on-officer worn digital cameras,” Marziano said. “The smaller mobile video devices no longer record to tape but rather store data internally measured in gigabytes. The cameras’ accumulated data is then typically downloaded securely via a USB cable, a docking station or across a wireless network.”
Exploring the multiple variations of cloud storage as it has evolved over the last several years may be useful for agencies to assure the security of their digital evidence. Cloud storage offers efficiency, agility and innovation that typically cannot be achieved with in house or traditional on site servers. Storage of law enforcement digital data which may include documents, images and critical evidence files requires more storage space which can be accomplished with online cloud storage.
Accessing the Cloud
Cloud storage works in a way where the digital evidence data is stored on a remote server managed by a separate entity instead of the traditional on site evidence locker type of storage system.
“The digital data can be accessed through a web browser with a secure log in for each officer any time,” Marziano said. “There are also cloud based storage systems that include access for each officer through mobile applications that are pre-loaded on to their agency issued cell phone. The officer can upload evidence photos taken with the camera phone at any provided docking station or even wirelessly while on scene."
The cloud based storage utilized by the agency should include complete security usually through encryption coupled with secure password access for each officer or staff along with other measures.
Marziano suggested purchasing only vendor software that has the capability to allow each officer to securely upload digital evidence. Depending on the vendor, uploaded files can have the ability to be saved and organized according to a timeframe or incident number and title. Additionally, many available vendor programs are capable of granting web access to outside agencies for a predetermined duration of time.
For example, the officer can grant the investigating District Attorney access to case photos through a secure web access portal for a specified hour on a specified date.
Storage and maintenance of digital evidence has never been more important than it presently is in the law enforcement community, according to Marziano. Video, photo, voice recordings and documents are all critical evidence pieces which, with the assistance of advanced technology, can store and maintain the security of data at a level which most agencies can never hope to establish on their own.
As the custodians of this digital evidence, law enforcement personnel must abide by the strict chain of custody rules established by the Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) and the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS). Storage of digital evidence must be managed according to law enforcement standards.
CJIS and FIPS sets forth detailed policies which govern the creation, viewing, modification, transmission, dissemination, storage and destruction of data. Additionally, when the digital evidence is used in a criminal case, it must meet court requirements for the handling of trial evidence.
When researching digital evidence storage systems, Marziano suggested an in-depth look into vendor packaged products and software that offers several security and efficiency features. Many vendors have available technology packages which include devices such as digital cameras and cell phones bundled with unlimited data storage plans.