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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Nathan Eisner, COO
Nathan Eisner

For police departments, body camera video can become an unpredictable, high-cost technology in their toolset. Starting in the early 2010s, the combination of body camera recording technology, software, and storage offered officers a tool to document case activity to a level of detail previously impossible. One of the key issues with this new technology—and an issue that has not gone away—is storage costs.

As a recent typical example, the city of Elizabeth City, North Carolina unexpectedly had to spend an extra $52,000 related to body camera video storage costs. According to the Daily Advance, “City Manager Rich Olson noted the city's in-car and body cameras are ‘data-storage intense.’ As a result, the city needs more space on its servers for the cameras’ footage. ‘The amount of storage we had, we thought had 30 days, but we actually looked at it and we only had 10 days,’ Olson said, adding later that high-resolution body camera footage consumes a lot of storage space.”

We’ve worked with quite a few cities on similar issues and often help them implement best practices that can help avoid very costly surprises as in the case of Elizabeth City. Here are four ways you can keep body camera video storage and archiving costs low and predictable for your police department.

1. Seek out a fixed cost solution.

In our experience, we’ve seen many police departments hit storage caps with body camera video solutions. Going beyond those caps require painful increases in storage costs. It may be tempting to work out a variable-cost deal that seems low at first, but body camera video storage needs will only increase—not decrease—over time. Inevitably, your costs will increase under such an arrangement.

Instead, you need a fixed cost video storage and archiving solution with unlimited storage. Cities function best when they experience predictable costs and keep budget surprises to a minimum. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrambling to find funds late in the year to increase your body camera video storage.

2. Follow state records retention schedules.

If you want to decrease your storage costs, follow retention policies. Keeping body camera video indefinitely out of ease or habit doesn’t help you at all. Costs increase because of additional storage, operational burden (such as staff labor if you need to produce or redact body camera video that you don’t need to keep), data management burdens, and the legal risks of managing expired records.

Depending on your state’s laws, you only need to keep body camera video for a specific amount of time. After that, get rid of it. Follow policy, don’t hoard records, and instead purge records.

3. Ensure that your body camera video software has the right capabilities.

Police departments need to configure video management software to follow state body camera video records retention laws along with easing the tasks of uploading and managing videos. In an interview with Auburn, Georgia’s Police Chief Carl Moulder and Lt. Chris Hodge last year, they said, “Focus on getting quality software that will manage the videos. While the camera capabilities are important, without an efficient managing software the in-house storage endeavor will fail. I highly recommend involving your IT provider from the very beginning. They can keep you from making huge IT-related errors. Again, I believe it’s better to not have a system at all than to have a system that doesn’t work properly.”

In addition, the software needs to help with uploading, managing, retrieving, and disseminating videos. Otherwise, operational and technical costs will increase related to storage if your massive amounts of body camera video data are hard to access or share in response to Open Records Requests and criminal investigations.

4. Find the right local storage and offsite video archiving combination that works best with your city.

Two extremes can get you into trouble with body camera video storage costs.

1. Local storage: Storing all body camera video on servers that you own and maintain onsite can get costly. You will need to buy new servers, expand storage, upgrade hardware and software, and constantly maintain this hardware.

2. Cloud storage: Moving to a cloud-only solution can increase costs too much depending on the solution. True, a cloud vendor may tout the flexibility and scalability of a purely offsite storage solution. But your costs can creep up quickly as you scale.

Instead, look for the combination that works best for your police department. For example, the City of Auburn realized that a cloud storage-only solution was too expensive. In the same interview referenced above, Moulder and Hodge said, “We wanted to move away from a cloud-based storage system and integrate a self-storage system within our own network. This saved on cloud storage fees, which were considerable, and allowed us to invest more money into the acquisition of more body camera units that could be assigned to an individual officer.”

Every city is different depending on size, body camera video needs, police department capabilities, and state records retention laws. An IT vendor experienced in municipalities can help find the right solution for you.

By finding the right solution, following state records retention laws, and negotiating a fixed cost, your city can avoid budget surprises when police departments hit storage caps. If you need help finding the right body camera video storage and archiving solution for your police department, reach out to us today.