With respect to a body camera or dash camera system, the videos themselves are only one small piece of the puzzle. As this blog has discussed in the past, considerations surrounding CJIS security, auxiliary types of footage (e.g. photos, documents), and metadata (e.g. locations) can be more important than the videos themselves. One topic that deserves more attention is the dissemination of footage to neighboring agencies and prosecuting authorities. For example, agencies must consider how they will efficiently and securely provide footage to a prosecutor, and from there, the defense. We have often seen that one of the goals of a body camera program is to “enhance the quality of cases submitted and evidence collected by the department for prosecution.” [Source] With body or dash camera videos, it is vital to have mechanisms in place to enable the use of this footage in a court of law.
There are three primary ways for prosecutors to obtain body or dash camera footage from an agency, all of which are options with Visual Labs.
- Download: The most familiar and straightforward way to share footage is to download footage onto a flash drive, DVD, or other physical medium. In this case, it is vital that the BWC vendor use non-proprietary file formats, such as mp4 for video and jpeg for photos. Otherwise, third parties may need to download special programs, codecs, or utilize file converters to simply view evidence. While once more commonplace, downloading footage in order to physically share it has gradually grown out of favor due to the shift from local storage to the cloud. The limitations include the direct cost of the physical medium, the indirect cost of personnel preparing and transporting the physical medium, the preservation of the chain of custody, and the need to physically secure the evidence.
- Secure Links via Email: Instead of downloading footage, records staff can save time by emailing links to the footage (not the footage itself) to authorized third parties. As needed, the recipient can use these links to download the footage or forward to another authorized recipient. In some cases, prosecutors need to store the footage longer than the agency itself, so as before, it is important that these files are non-proprietary. This assures that the files can be easily used throughout the judicial process, even if the relationship between the agency and camera vendor has terminated. Also, best practices dictate that email links have an expiry date and encoded URL so that agencies can prevent abuse and maintain an audit trail of who has accessed the shared footage. Having a system with automatic upload capabilities accelerates this process since officers can remain in the field while their footage is sent to necessary third parties.
- Direct Access: Agencies can relieve a huge burden from themselves and prosecutors by establishing a direct evidence link between the agency and the prosecuting office. For example, agencies can mark certain footage as accessible to the prosecuting office, and prosecutors can use the vendor’s evidence management system to query and download the footage to which they have been granted access. This, of course, is subject to permissions established by the two entities. One excellent example of this is the direct evidence link between the Fontana, California Police Department and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. According to San Bernardino County Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Fermin, “The relationship we have with Visual Labs has made the discovery and prosecution process incredibly easy for our staff. Our staff not only has access to the videos, photos, audio, and PDF call logs in a single place, but they also have the location data and other analytics at their disposal.”
As agencies assess various camera systems, it is important to look beyond the standard, albeit important, questions surrounding mounting, field of view, upload, and storage. The journey from the camera to the court house can be a labor-intensive one, but it does not need to be. With a robust evidence management backend, sharing the right footage with the right parties can all be handled in just a few clicks.