The ‘Inventive’ Use of Body Worn Cameras Highlights the Challenges of Managing Digital Evidence

​Body worn cameras have been at the forefront of the debate surrounding digital evidence management and in its new 'Body Worn Cameras & Digital Evidence Management Report – 2018', IHS Markit forecasts their use by police forces worldwide will increase by nearly 30% this year. Translated another way, if each of these devices were switched on for just one hour per day, they would collectively create more than 1.5 million hours of new data daily. Now consider all of the other forms of digital evidence that exist today, and you'll begin to see the scale of the challenge of capturing, analyzing and sharing it in much sharper focus.

Body worn cameras ​provide a dual benefit. They are both a tool for capturing evidence, as well as a visible deterrent. There are some well documented use cases of this, including this recent story from West Mercia Police. But it has also come to light that there are some 'creative' officers using the technology in ways it was never intended, in an attempt to overcome the hugely frustrating collection challenges they experience in handling digital evidence, CCTV in particular.​

A recent anecdote from a serving police officer in the UK perfectly illustrates the problem. One of the biggest challenges we hear from police officers of all ranks is the issue of gathering and processing CCTV video. Consider the time it takes an officer to travel to a crime scene to obtain surveillance camera footage, the regular frustration of waiting for it to be found on the system, and then copied to disk. In some reported instances the officer then needs to make a further one-hour journey to the nearest office to process the evidence.

To 'solve' this problem officers are getting creative. The officer is tasked with getting the evidence quickly, he or she has a camera on their uniform…so what does the officer do? You guessed it – some officers are resorting to recording the footage directly from the CCTV monitor on to their body worn camera! While granted, it is certainly enterprising, it's also far from ideal.

But thankfully there is a smarter, better way, and that's to have the business email the relevant footage directly to the police. This is something NICE Investigate is already able to help police forces do right now.

Now I strongly suspect that the above example is not an isolated incident given the fact that many departments are under-resourced when it comes to officers.  I am not passing judgement and I imagine that officers are acting with the best intent – to speed up their investigations. But this is just one example of how, when left to their own devices, officers will apply the wrong solutions to cope with growing struggles with digital evidence.

There is a real cost to taking shortcuts. In the case of second-hand CCTV video (filmed via body worn camera), the second-hand evidence is of poor quality added to by the fact the BWV's 'fish eye' camera will distort the images further when pointed at a monitor, making it harder to identify potential suspects and therefore potentially slowing investigations.

There's also a price to be paid when forces continue to rely on outdated 'analog' ways of doing things in world that has become increasingly digital. For example, in my last blog, I wrote about an observation made by the Deputy Director, Criminal Justice at the Scottish Government that it costs the government over £40 million annually as a consequence of processing and transporting digital evidence the old fashioned way -- via USB drives and disks.

And the problem is only going to get worse. The volume of digital evidence is going in one direction – up! The adoption of body worn cameras is showing no sign of slowing down and new data sources are cropping up every day. If measures are not put in place to manage them, forces may find themselves in an absurd and wholly avoidable situation, where there is more potential evidence than ever but the Crown Prosecution Service is unable to receive, process, and act on it.

The good news is that digital evidence management provides a real solution to the problems. As Senior Analyst, Video Surveillance at IHS Markit, Josh Woodhouse states: "With a greater number of body-worn cameras in use, and an associated increase in potential evidence collection, the capabilities of underlying digital evidence-management systems are becoming an increasingly critical factor in the ability of law enforcement to effectively manage and interpret huge repositories of digital evidence."

If you're interested in learning more, I invite you to read more about NICE Investigate here.


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