Driven by shrinking public coffers, state and local governments face a growing number of challenges. Law enforcement organizations are particularly at risk due to legacy technologies that compound costs through implementation expenses, maintenance fees, software upgrades and hardware purchases.
More and more, this hidden price is motivating law enforcement departments to try cloud computing—Software as a Service (SaaS), in particular—to bring down costs and increase flexibility. To gain those benefits, however, departments must be able to overcome new issues involving information security, data management, and protecting confidentiality.
Cloud computing reduces technical effort
Cloud computing providers offer services to store data or run applications that are accessible from any Web-connected device. Rather than invest in capital expenses—such as computer servers and software—departments are able to rent these on a variable payment schedule. Google, Amazon and Box are examples of companies that provide such services.
Salesforce, a customer relationship management (CRM) software firm, highlighted several features of SaaS that enable greater functionality and help organizations reduce their IT footprint:
- Reduce investment in setup.
Most law enforcement organizations already have the IT infrastructure needed to access SaaS applications. The fundamental requirement is a stable and secure Internet connection with Web-enabled devices.
- Deploy rapidly.
Software migration and upgrades strain personnel due to the time and effort it takes to become accustomed to new platforms. Because users gain access through Web browsers, a familiar interface, barriers to adoption are low.
- Maintain systems automatically.
For SaaS subscribers, maintenance costs are virtually non-existent. As part of the subscription fees, the SaaS provider handles upgrades, bug fixes, and bandwidth adjustments.
- Integrate easily.
With scalable software, other communication, deployment or analytics tools can extend the core functionality without great technical effort. Law enforcement organizations won’t require an IT specialist to ensure different systems are able to share data.
According to SafeGov, first-responder organizations are constrained by costs, resulting in difficult trade-offs between functionality and autonomy. Cloud storage is an effective first step toward more cost-effective use of resources.
Law enforcement policy can complicate adoption
Although many police are already using or considering cloud computing, adopting SaaS is a deliberate process for law enforcement. The pace is slow due to the need to protect confidential and sensitive information that would live on servers hosted offsite.
In 2013, the International Association of Chiefs of Police provided guidance on use of cloud computing in law enforcement. Benefits highlighted in the document align with what Salesforce outlined—cost savings, rapid deployment, and easy integration—as well as other key considerations, such as facilitating data recovery in case of disaster.
However, the IACP also articulated a number of special concerns related to data management:
- Law enforcement agencies must retain ownership of all data.
- Cloud service providers are responsible for maintaining data integrity of data, even while making information portable to other systems.
- Cloud service providers cannot mine or use any stored data without explicit authorization.
- Regular audits of performance, use, access and compliance should be conducted by the service provider or law enforcement agency.
- Agreements with providers should account for survivability, to ensure any changes in business structure do not interfere with law enforcement operations.
Additionally, it is critical that the cloud service providers comply with Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) security policy requirements.
Wearing a body camera is the easy part
One evident need for cloud computing may be found in the adoption of body cameras by police departments. Public calls for transparency and accountability have increased, but few take into account the massive data management issues that arise when using this technology.
Even a small agency equipping its force with these cameras will generate millions of video files. An organization using a traditional, on-premise infrastructure will run into technical and logistical challenges trying to maintain order in the face of a massive volume of new content.
“The cloud is the most viable alternative to costly, inflexible legacy systems.”
Managing high-bandwidth video can be labor-intensive. At the end of a shift, few officers will look forward to the prospect of completing additional paperwork and digital documentation. Many law enforcement organizations are asking how they can capture data, encrypt it, ensure secure storage, and still make it accessible to support interagency cooperation—all without increasing the burden on the force.
The cloud is the most viable alternative to costly, inflexible legacy systems. Officers can authenticate from any Internet-connected device and quickly upload files directly from the camera, delivering video files to a central location.
The Oakland Police Department is piloting a cloud storage program with a service that meets the FBI’s CJIS standards for data security. The cloud vendor’s solution addresses both security for and retention of body camera video files.
Oakland has invested in additional features, as well, including a digital signature used to authenticate videos in the context of criminal investigations. Furthermore, the platform integrates with reporting software, allowing videos to be tagged in reports. Officers can perform keyword searches to locate media specific to a case.
Although successful migration of all systems and workflows to cloud-based platforms is a process, there are steps being taken to successfully leverage the technology for greater efficiency. In addition to handling the massive surge in data from body cameras, SaaS has proven to be an effective tool for law enforcement training and communication applications.
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