Oakland Police Test Cloud Storage for Body Camera Video

The city, which has the largest deployment of police body cameras in the world, will use a data storage system that meets the FBI's standards for security.

by / February 26, 2015

The Oakland, Calif., Police Department is piloting a new Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS)-capable cloud storage platform for body-worn camera video that may help officers better manage the deluge of video they now capture and store. 

The adoption of body-worn cameras by law enforcement has significantly accelerated in recent months following protests across the country after grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to charge police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men. Last December, President Barack Obama asked Congress for money to buy 50,000 police body cameras.

But storing video evidence can be problematic for law enforcement agencies as a year’s worth of video from each officer’s body camera can require terabytes of stored data. Cloud storage represents a potential solution, but until now, most cloud platforms have not met the FBI’s CJIS policies, which enable police departments to connect to the FBI’s systems and securely access its data. 

“Many police departments have told us they have been unable to explore the benefits of the cloud due to concerns with CJIS security policies,” said Steve Lovell, former president of VIEVU, a Seattle-based maker of wearable police cameras.

In response, VIEVU and Microsoft recently collaborated to make a CJIS-capable version of VIEVU’s VERIPATROL platform for the Microsoft Azure Government cloud.

“Because VIEVU is CJIS-capable, police departments will be able to use the cloud to view, modify and share video data with a convenient, on-demand solution that is capable of meeting regulatory requirements,” said Lovell. 

The Oakland Police Department, which currently has more than 600 body-worn cameras deployed citywide (the largest deployment of body cameras worldwide, according to Oakland Police Department Officer Dave Burke) is piloting the VERIPATROL platform for the Microsoft Azure Government cloud. Oakland retains video from its body-worn cameras on an in-house system for five years, but recently found the volume of video being stored was overwhelming its servers. 

“In the beginning of the body-worn camera program in 2009, when we had just 280 cameras deployed in the field, we were storing several hundred gigabytes of video,” said Burke. “Now we’re up to 600 cameras. The storage need has risen exponentially over the last couple of years to the point that we're now averaging almost seven terabytes a month.”

The department first considered reducing the number of years it retains video from five to three to help lessen the storage problem. But moving to the cloud will give the department seamless storage and eliminate worries over file size and retention period, according to Burke. 

“It will give us almost unlimited room to store video,” he said. “It'll also give us the redundancy, security and everything else that we're looking for.”

Burke said the cloud-based system works the same as their internal system, so officers will not see any difference when utilizing the cloud-based system. 

“I download my camera and it goes to the server just as it would with our existing system,” said Burke. “It's actually quite seamless.”

The cloud-based platform also offers a number of additional benefits and features, Lovell said, such as digital signatures that can used for authenticity should video later be needed in court, a running audit log of the database and courtroom-ready transcriptions from a captured event. 

Burke said that adding analytic abilities and integrating video with other systems within the Oakland Police Department will allow officers to do even more. 

“If an officer goes out in the field and he takes a report, we can tag the videos with that report number, so whoever touches that report and whatever is associated to that report now comes into one silo,” said Burke. “It cuts down on time and also aids in investigations, crime trends and analytics.”

And if evidence is needed for a burglary that occurred on Oct. 12, 2014, for example, an officer can pull up video and associated evidence for all the burglaries that occurred on that day. He or she can then filter results by the officer involved, by time of day and other parameters. 

“Once we get our video onto the Azure platform we can aggregate it, we can learn from it, we can make the database proactive to tell us things,” Burke said. “We can run a keyword search against all the audio and pull up videos where certain things were said. From an emergency management or even a court and judicial process perspective, this really opens the door.”

Lovell said VIEVU is experiencing growing demand from police departments across the country for this type of tool. But Burke warned that what works for one department won’t necessarily work for another, and police agencies need to ensure they have the financial backing and the IT infrastructure to make body-worn camera systems work.

The Oakland Police Department essentially stumbled into its body-worn camera program in 2009. It had previously installed an in-car video program, but when the company it was working with went bankrupt, the department decided to use the residual money to fund a body-worn camera program instead. 

“The chief at the time believed body-worn cameras would be more effective because most of the crimes take place away from the officer’s vehicle,” said Burke. “With the dash cams, nothing was captured once the officer left the area around the car.”

Burke said he expects to see more jurisdictions implementing body-worn cameras, but that it really comes down to dollars and cents.

“What works for the Oakland Police Department will not work for other agencies and vice versa,” he said. “Hopefully we'll have a successful pilot and we'll launch from there and see where it takes us.”

Burke said an additional benefit of the body-worn cameras is that they may also help improve behavior on both sides of the lens. For instance, former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan reported that the police department had approximately 2,220 “use of force” complaints before deploying the body cameras in 2009. In 2014, with 620 cameras deployed in the field, use of force complaints dropped to 572. Additionally the Oakland Police Department averages about eight officer-involved shootings a year. In 2014, there were none.  

Quan said, though she does not believe officers’ use of body cameras is the only reason that use-of-force incidents have declined, she does believe it is “a major reason.” 

Justine Brown Contributing Writer