Cloud Storage Considerations for Police Digital Evidence

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By Rick Taylor

Whether managing a mountain of video evidence for a case or complying with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to provide transparency to the communities they serve, public safety agencies are continually challenged to do more.

One of the challenges investigators face is managing the collection of digital evidence from disparate sources and storing it in a central location, as well as monitoring access and dissemination of evidence from the collector to the investigator. , to the command staff and finally to the prosecutor’s office. It is essential to centralize and secure access to all evidence to ensure that nothing is misplaced or overlooked. Something as simple as a forgotten DVD in an investigator’s desk drawer can make or break a case.

As agencies grapple with determining the best method to store and share critical evidence, they are faced with two main choices: on-premises or cloud storage?

More data, more problems

A growing number of sources, including IoT devices, CCTV cameras, access control systems, community cameras and automatic license plate readers (ALPR), provide valuable information to aid in investigations and proactive measures. However, efficiently and securely storing and sharing all of this data in one place is a tall order.

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On-premises data storage solutions can be expensive and require full-time IT staff, hardware, and servers. Likewise, the procurement process can make scaling them inefficient. And while accurate information is the backbone of law enforcement, storing it in siled systems and in different locations, as is often the case with body-worn camera evidence, 911 calls , CAD data and other sources, may lead to recovery and correlation errors.

By migrating from on-premises systems to cloud-based systems, public safety teams gain flexibility to manage the increase in digital evidence and expand their systems to adapt as needed. Likewise, organizations are realizing the value of cloud storage for backing up video and data archives.

Cloud-based collaboration

For investigators and detectives, sorting case information is a time-consuming task. With a cloud-based solution, all data relating to a case, regardless of its origin or the type of information it is, can be collected in a single digital file, accessible only by authorized personnel.

A cloud-based digital evidence management system (DEMS) allows agencies and departments to easily share data across departments and sites when collaborating on investigations. Agencies no longer need to copy information to DVDs and shared drives to send information. All of this can be done securely through cloud-based systems. Organizations can securely collect, manage and share encrypted video evidence and other relevant case information with the click of a button. Agencies can distill this information into reports and facilitate evidence sharing between public entities, investigators, communities and businesses.

Leveraging the cloud and its scalability, redundancy, and power can also eliminate the need for IT to install, update, and maintain software on investigators’ computers, and allow detectives to use their department’s mobile devices to request and interact with evidence in the field.

Moving to the cloud can also help agencies meet increasing regulations and demands around sharing data with the public. In some law enforcement agencies, the workload has increased to the point where multiple people are responding to FOIA video requests – even requiring people to be removed from the field to search for footage, burn DVDs and send them to citizens to respond to each request. A cloud-based system eliminates chain of custody issues and facilitates evidence sharing between public entities, investigators, communities, businesses and citizens. Some solutions can even redact images on the fly to protect individuals’ privacy.

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More efficiency and insight in terms of time and costs

Along with their analytical and distribution benefits, cloud-based systems also reduce the burden on IT departments to keep systems up-to-date and secure. Patches and critical updates are automatically pushed by the software and server maintenance is done by the cloud storage provider. Setting up new locations, adding storage, or scaling operations is a much simpler and faster undertaking.

Choosing a cloud-based solution that integrates with other systems that manage security, traffic flow, and other functions can also provide a more holistic view of overall operations. Agencies can use security system data for business intelligence.

Cloud-based solutions also shrink an organizations investment in hardware over time, as well as the reduction or even elimination of ongoing IT network infrastructure expenses such as servers and the cost of utilities such as electricity and cooling. They also provide greater agility and flexibility, as organizations with cloud-based solutions can benefit from the latest technological innovations and the latest features and functionality.

A phased approach to cloud migration

Given the critical nature of digital evidence in any investigation, digital evidence management systems (DEMS) are often the first step in migrating to the cloud. Using the cloud for DEMS provides a complete view of evidence and allows teams to stop sifting through files to find videos captured months ago or creating individual DVDs to share evidence. With a cloud-based DEMS, secure access and distribution is easier and more efficient. Cloud-based solutions can offer an effective solution to address the increase in data, pressure on resources, and the general need to collaborate on investigations and proactive measures to help agencies better protect their communities.

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About the Author

Rick Taylor is National Director, Public Sector at Genetec, Inc.. Prior to Genetec, Rick had nearly a decade of experience in the security industry, including as a district manager at UTC Fire & Security and GE, and as a vice president at Esscoe for the security practice of the company.

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