Body camera video introduces new challenges for data management and analysis

​The U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced $20 million in grants to fund a pilot program for body cameras which it says will “hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.” Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton also came out staunchly in favor of the technology a few weeks ago, stating that body cameras “will improve transparency and accountability” and “help protect good people on both sides of the lens." ​

It’s within the realm of imagination that within just a few years body cameras could become the new normal. Every day it seems I read about another agency planning to adopt them. 

But the one thing that rarely enters into the discussion is how agencies plan to store and manage this mass influx of data.

Just how much data are we talking about? 

The City of Oakland Police Department, which claims to be one of the largest deployments of body-worn cameras worldwide, amasses an average of 7 terabytes of video a month. But by my estimation this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, the technology is still fairly nascent – many body-worn cameras can only operate for a few hours between charges, and HD is a new capability.  Limited storage for body-worn camera data – whether cloud or on premise – is forcing compromises: not recording all the time, lower quality, lower resolution. These compromises will not meet the expectations of an ‘always on’ society. They remind me of some of the quality compromises in early voice and surveillance video recording equipment. Companies and customers strove to overcome those compromises as quickly as technology and creativity allowed.

Just like other technologies, HD and continuous recording will quickly become standard as technology races on and public expectations increase. By my calculations, assuming continuous recording, each camera on patrol for eight hours a day can generate 1 terabyte of data a month. Abbreviated, that may not sound much, but it’s 1,000,000,000,000 bytes of data – the equivalent of 160 ninety-minute Netflix films in HD, or 400,000 smartphone photos!  That’s a lot of data to move around and manage, and that’s just for one camera each month. 

Now imagine equipping each of the 900,000 U.S. sworn law officers with body-worn cameras, and the challenge of storing and managing all of that data rises to a monumental level.

True, this is in the future – but it’s not far away.  

Finally, recording and storing all of this data is just half of the problem. The ability to extract relevant content from the terabytes upon terabytes of recorded video will be equally challenging. That part of the process can only be made possible by new tools and processes: analytics, workflows, and aggregated systems. 

And aside from protecting citizens and police officers on both sides of the lens, what lessons can police departments learn from this data? It’s an important question to ask.

There’s no doubt that body-worn cameras will become the new normal for police departments everywhere. But what the new normal will look like for managing and analyzing all of this data remains to be seen. 
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