Beware of Hidden Body-Worn Camera Costs

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are evaluating and/or deploying body-worn camera (BWC) solutions as a tool for their officers in the field. While these systems offer significant benefits, they can also create unexpected challenges at the back-end in terms of integration; uploading, storing and managing increasing volumes of digital evidence; and keeping data secure while also making it accessible when it is needed.

Before investing in a body-worn solution, it is critical for agencies to do their homework in order to understand total costs and gain the maximum benefit from the investment. Some vendors offer cheaper and sometimes free BWC hardware, in exchange for subscription-based cloud storage plans that require no upfront investment. At first glance, these may seem attractive. But agencies that fail to investigate the true long-term total cost of ownership of a new BWC solution, and invest the time and energy to develop a unified video evidence management program, will likely end up paying much more in the long run.

To avoid hidden costs and ensure your agency gets the most out of its investment, here are a few things to be aware of when researching the pros and cons of a body-worn camera solution:

  1. Best-in-class body-worn camera hardware is just one piece of the puzzle. Not all solutions are created equal. In order to achieve the best possible long-term investment, durable and reliable hardware that can capture high-quality video and sound is critical. Body-worn camera solutions should be versatile and designed for the real-life working conditions your officers face in the field. Features like file metadata and pre-event recording are features that can make an enormous difference in the way your solution services your agency. Systems without these features do a disservice to your officers and the investment your agency made.
  2. Use a single, unified system for video evidence management. In a 2014 survey, 70 percent of officers reported their agencies used in-car video evidence systems – that number is likely even higher today. One of the most common complaints from agencies deploying a new body-worn system is lack of compatibility with their other video evidence platforms. Multiple, standalone systems are more costly to deploy and maintain, not to mention they lead to cross platform training requirements and an increased IT support workload for software updates. They can also be problematic when sharing evidence with prosecutors. Today’s body-worn systems should be paired with an integrated file management system that can comprehensively manage your video evidence from multiple sources.
  3. Video file storage will be your biggest expense over the long term. Many agencies fixate on the price of the camera hardware, without considering the storage component that comes with the increased use of video evidence. One body-worn camera creates roughly 1GB of new data for every hour of video shot. Multiply that number by the number of hours worked by the number of officers at your agency- not to mention adding in the amount of video coming from in-car systems or other sources – and you’ll quickly realize the importance of a cost-effective storage solution. Understanding the type of storage available (cloud storage, local storage, hybrid storage) and which works best for your agency will help you achieve maximum ROI.
  4. Video evidence storage needs to work for you. Before determining your video evidence storage plan, you must consider several important questions. Does the cloud storage solution comply with all applicable local, state and federal regulations? How can you ensure your evidence will be readily available when you need it? How does the storage solution enable privacy protection and redaction? Who owns the data? If your vendor goes out of business or you decide to make a change, can you get your evidence back? If so, how difficult will it be and how much will it cost? Your video evidence management plan can either provide tremendous benefits, or headaches, if not evaluated carefully.
  5. Transferring data should be a key consideration. Once you determine your data storage plan, figuring out how video evidence files will be transferred each day is the next consideration. Offloading HD video can be cumbersome and time-consuming, with a potentially high risk of loss of video data due to badly designed or insufficient infrastructure. Your platform selection will determine how evidence is transferred and how data policies are enforced. Data security should also be accounted for to ensure that video files are encrypted and secured in transit to prevent hackers or data breaches of evidence. When dealing with sensitive video evidence, it will benefit your agency to invest in a reliable system that meets all chain-of-evidence requirements than risk exposing valuable data.

For more information on how to get the most out of your evidence management program, check out our whitepaper, published in partnership with Law Officer Magazine.