Advancing technology affords police departments the opportunity to make their operations faster and more effective. Some departments are exploring using cloud computing—data stored securely on a third-party system that is accessible instantly across remote locations—to provide digital evidence storage. Although traditional bunkers are still needed to protect physical evidence, the proliferation of digital videos, photos and other records can be easily stored on the cloud to the advantage of law enforcement agencies.
Cloud storage keeps pace with digital evidence
With digital records, cloud computing makes information faster for officers to share. Departments can send data to lawyers, media members or other individuals key to a case, reducing the time officers spend creating and delivering physical media. Since there is no need to maintain office space for storage or to invest in the administration of in-house servers, the use of a virtual evidence room allows law enforcement to save resources for more pressing police work.
The benefits of cloud storage multiply as departments increasingly adopt wearable tech. Outfitting officers with body-worn cameras results in hundreds of hours of footage per week, video which must be stored somewhere. Cloud computing offers expansive storage at relatively low cost to protect a resource with growing value.
A report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that, when video is available in police misconduct claims, the officer is exonerated in 93 percent of these cases. Furthermore, approximately half of all complaints are withdrawn immediately when video evidence is provided.
“Using this new technology has increased the number of cases that end in plea deals,” Detective Melissa Clemens of the Newport News Police Department said of switching to cloud technologies. “This reduces our officers’ time in court since we can get the evidence in front of prosecutors immediately.”
Confidence in cybersecurity eases adoption
An obvious barrier to adoption of cloud computing by law enforcement is security. Traditional evidence rooms are well protected and require physical entry, but digital evidence can be accessed from anywhere, increasing the risk of data tampering.
While individual officers could handle much of the evidence storage in-house, having a third-party service oversee cybersecurity ensures that everything complies with industry standards. Cloud services use data encryption and multiple layers of security to protect against hacking, and these companies often have their IT teams patrolling cyberspace for potential breaches.
To accelerate the adoption of secure cloud solutions, the U.S. General Services Administration advocates for a consistent set of standards for remote storage. According to Police Chief, the Federal Risk and Authorization Program (FedRAMP) offers a baseline for security practices used to bolster department confidence in cloud technology. Any evidence management system must support audits and other oversight, but FedRAMP also wants officers to be trained to effectively annotate digital evidence, making it easier to find “best evidence” to support a court case. Increasing officer skills will add value to cloud systems by giving agencies a clear picture of where and when evidence was logged and who accessed that information.
Crowdsourced information gives civilians a role in investigation
Cloud storage systems can also be used by civilians to benefit law enforcement. The Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository (LEEDIR) allows citizens to upload pictures and videos that may help police with large-scale operations.
The Associated Press noted that in the days after the Boston Marathon attacks in April 2013, authorities were inundated with thousands of photos and videos of people from the scene in the hopes that the material could be helpful. With LEEDIR, electronic tips can be collected and stored efficiently during a crisis, without wreaking havoc on operations by flooding department servers with information. Software like LEEDIR provides a means for the public to contribute in a way that does not disrupt investigations.
“With tens of millions of smartphones in use in the U.S., it’s a virtual certainty that citizens will be taking videos and photos at any terrorist attack, large-scale emergency or natural disaster,” said George D. Crowley Jr., the CEO of a tech startup, in a press release. “That content can be critical to law enforcement and first responders. … The ability to rapidly receive vital clues from a crime scene, or a report on the status of disaster victims, will give law enforcement agencies and first responders a lifesaving edge.”
The promise of saving time, money and lives is what attracts agencies to cloud computing. With the technology, departments can capitalize on their human resources to improve public safety patrol, collaborate more effectively, and maintain the digital evidence needed to keep officers out of the courtroom and back on patrol.
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