Why body-worn video in public safety is not a 'plug-and-play' proposition

By Steve Crutchfield

February 24, 2017

It’s clear the ‘Internet of Things’ era is not a passing fad. Gartner predicted that 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ surrounded us in 2016, up 30% on the previous year. As this growth rate continues it also contributes to a data deluge. IBM Research found that 98% of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone – a trend that will continue in 2017 and beyond.

While most accept that the growing flood of data means that we are being presented with more information than we need, Australia’s public safety agencies have very distinct needs when it comes to data.

Data can help to provide vital clues to assist with investigations or with managing emergencies, but only if its most relevant parts are presented to first responders and it doesn’t distract them from their daily work.

Digital and multimedia content including CCTV footage, social media feeds, sensors and videos captured on citizens’ smart phones can all form part of the multitude of data sources that make up the ‘Internet of Public Safety Things’. In public safety, being able to filter and analyse this content and derive meaningful intelligence from it is the key to working more safely and productivity while keeping our communities safer.

Body-worn video (BWV) is one technology that can enable better management of data – a technology experiencing a surge in interest among public safety agencies in Australia and globally. Being able to capture and receive data including video while on the go can make a fundamental difference to the way first responders manage their daily work.

Managing workflows in the field instead of travelling back to the station to access IT systems means helps to unburden officers from some administrative tasks and enables them to be present in the community where they can have greater impact.

Over time, when BWV is combined with sophisticated software applications including video analytics, it will have a far greater impact on public safety, ultimately helping to enable agencies to predict and prevent events and incidents instead of responding to them.

When recently announcing a tender to provide 8500 mobile devices for her state’s police force, Victoria Police Minister Lisa Neville said devices such as body-worn video cameras would save officers 30 minutes for every eight-hour frontline shift – the equivalent of 500 FTEs each year.

Although many different types of body-worn technology are expected soon, the key to its applicability will be its ability to integrate within existing systems and operations to support different technology types and to overcome significant challenges related to video usage and storage policies.

The vital first step for any public safety agency looking to deploy body-worn video must be to define clear objectives for use of this technology.

This involves asking several important questions. For example: how will body-worn video be integrated with a public safety officer’s daily operations, how can video be made available to officers in the field and officials in the control room, and what broadband or other network capability is required to run these devices?

Another very important consideration is how best to manage all the data generated by body-worn video. BWV cameras will can capture and store information either in the cloud or in on-premises storage systems. Wherever content is stored it needs to be available for immediate analysis within control rooms and should never burden officers with the need to upload video at the end of their shifts.

Additionally, if data is stored in the cloud, the location of servers can raise prospective conflicts with data sovereignty laws. On-premise storage solutions must also be assessed for their security, availability and ongoing supportability. To manage their storage concerns more easily and more cost-effectively, some agencies may consider procuring storage as a managed service.

How a body-worn video camera will operate when connectivity is limited or unavailable also requires consideration. At these times, evidence collation can be made easier through the ability to ‘tag’ videos in the field with metadata (for example: dates, times, locations, environmental conditions, and other vital information) so they can be easily filed or searched later and logged as admissible evidence.

But perhaps the biggest issue of all, for public safety agencies and civil liberty groups, is the question of privacy.

Tension between civil liberty groups and public safety agencies surrounding privacy breaches and video continues. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said that courts should reject evidence from police if they fail to use their body-worn cameras appropriately. Civil libertarians have also requested better privacy protection for citizens through the right to redact any content captured featuring them – in other words, ‘blurring out’ identifying details of people unrelated to the offence, including victims and minors.

Ensuring this technology can firstly help to manage daily operational outcomes for public safety agencies helps to lay a foundation for new capabilities which can be added over time.

We may be some time away before our nation’s agencies can manage the multitude of data sources that surround us each day, but taking a careful and considered approach to technology introduction today will help us to create the safe communities of tomorrow.

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