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Police Body Camera Business All About the Video Evidence Storage 99

Lucas123 writes: Body cameras are the fastest growing segment of the police video camera business. The two largest police body camera manufacturers today — Taser and VieVu — say they've shipped devices to 41% of the nation's 18,000 police departments. But, the hardware is only the basis for the real business: video evidence storage. Last year, Taser's gross profit margins on hardware were 15.6%; the gross margins for video storage were 51%, according to Glenn Mattson, who follows Taser as an equity analyst for Ladenburg Thalmann. "There's no contest. They don't care about making money on the cameras," Mattson said. As of the first quarter of this year, more than a petabyte of police video has been uploaded to Taser's service. Just one of VieVu's clients, the Oakland PD, has uploaded more than a million police videos. The cost of storage, however, is so high that police departments have been forced to determine strict retention policies, that in some cases may effect the long-term handling of evidence. In Birmingham, Ala., for example, where they've deployed 300 cameras and hope to double that this year, the the video cameras themselves cost about $180,000, but the department's total outlay for a five-year contract including cloud storage with Taser will be $889,000.
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Police Body Camera Business All About the Video Evidence Storage

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  • Sounds like (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @09:45AM (#50450597)
    It is a market ripe for some competition.
    • Competition? Hah! Did you forget how government contracts work?

    • Re:Sounds like (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:00AM (#50450715) Homepage

      May I remind the law enforcement agencies that, despite video file storage being ubiquitous and cheap, they have to abide by the inexplicably DMCA-entangled file formats of the camera's and their overpriced storage servers. No reverse engineering the trivial protection scheme and buying cheap servers. You are vendor-locked.

  • I'm sure the various police departments will come up with a comprehensive policy for retention of evidence that will be completely glitch-free and non-controversial. .........

    And if you believe that, I'd got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What surprises me is that video storage is an issue at all. With 1 PB falling under $15,000 (two Backblaze Storage Pod 4.5s), coupled with a NAS head. 45Drives has 450 terabyte units with FreeNAS for $8800 each.

      On the other hand, pricing isn't that bad either. $100 per officer per month gets unlimited storage. This is a very inexpensive price to pay relatively... far cheaper than dealing with even one lawsuit.

    • Re:Well.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:13AM (#50450815)

      That may be a part of the advantage of going with one of these vendors. We sometimes hear about malfunctioning cameras when police are accused of abuse. Sometimes multiple cameras malfunction at the same time. []

      A properly designed system would make deleting evidence difficult, and even if the evidence were to be deleted, it would likely leave an audit trail showing that the video did indeed exist at one point and reveal when and how it was deleted.

    • And if you believe that, I've got a badge I'd like to sell you.


  • 5 terabytes [], $150.

    • Re:Cheap (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @09:57AM (#50450693) Homepage

      Sure, a drive is cheap ... having a robust and secure system (which I doubt they have) which gives you retention policies and other stuff suitable for evidentiary purposes is a much harder problem.

      And then you get into some other stuff.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        I'm skeptical that the people selling this stuff are using a Dell SAN with tape backup and Iron Mountain coming twice a week. It's likely the same crappy no name PCs with one of these very same drives, but charging thousands for the drive instead of $150-200.

        Either way, the argument that increased storage is expensive is crap.

        • Re:Cheap (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:19AM (#50450857) Homepage

          Oh, I have no doubt that Taser is overcharging ... and I strongly suspect they're not as secure and robust as they need to be for something warehousing police data. But the cost of increased storage is seldom limited solely by the cost of the media.

          And for legal purposes of any organization with a real retention schedule for whom failing to comply is a risk ... you can't just buy a cheap hard drive and pretend you've solved the problem.

          If these things are going to be legal records, they need to be secure, backed up, under a strict retention schedule, retrievable.

          Which tells me if you think the added cost of that kind of storage is 'crap' you've probably never done it.

          Sure, they're probably gouging, but there better be more to it than just slapping in cheap drives to a cheap machine ... or they'll find themselves explaining to a whole bunch of police forces why they're doing that.

          Unless of course all of these police forces have been hoodwinked into buying a system with a license which says "this system may or may not work, but we're not responsible if it doesn't". In which case law enforcement are really terrible at IT contracts.

          • If these things are going to be legal records, they need to be secure, backed up, under a strict retention schedule, retrievable.

            If they go all out on a closed source backup solution (Networker, Tivoli, Arcserve, etc), big costs will be incurred buying, licensing and maintaining the backup hardware / software. Ongoing costs for blank storage media whether tape or removable hard drives (depending on the backup scheme used), offsite storage costs if they want any DR capability, hiring someone or training someone on-staff to handle the restore / tape rotation requests, etc.

            • It's running on Amazon web services, says the article. Yea, they are making a killing. Makes me wonder why they don't just buy cloud storage themselves instead of through Taser.

        • by afidel ( 530433 )

          I doubt it's a Dell SAN, it's MUCH more likely they're using EMC object storage with bring your own hardware (aka ECS) or something similar. Storing lots of large video files with retention metadata and access control just screams object storage (frankly one of the few things that does).

          • by mlts ( 1038732 )

            Depending on the backend, it could just be a filesystem, like WAFL/OnTap or OneFS. The videos get stashed per owner ID, and a database on a different box keeps the meta data in sync, deleting videos that expire.

            Coupled with something like Isilon's SmartLock (which, in compliance mode, keeps stuff from being deleted unless one logs on as console root), it would provide decent protection against changes/deletions, barring physical compromise.

            There are a lot of ways (some good, many brain-dead) to store video

      • Sure, a drive is cheap ... having a robust and secure system (which I doubt they have) which gives you retention policies and other stuff suitable for evidentiary purposes is a much harder problem.

        And then you get into some other stuff.

        No about a hacker target ripe for the picking...... :(

        • I think the hacker tool of choice in this case would be a FOIA request. Most states have sunshine laws that would make these public records. All you have to do is walk down to the courthouse and make a request.

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            Sure, until they point to the contract they signed with Taser, etc. with some random stipulations which make it impossible (or at least very difficult/costly) to disclose. Just like the cell tower spoofing which someone was contractually secret even though that should have been overriden by existing laws.

            "Ok, let's write this agreement so when things disappear it's no ones fault, no one can request open access, no one can get files they want without lots of hoops and lawsuits, oh, and anything potentially

          • What about the black hatter that goes in and erases everything. Troll the world!

      • a robust and secure system which gives you retention policies and other stuff suitable for evidentiary purposes is a much harder problem.

        It is not that hard. Any development cost is a one-time fixed expense.

        This is just a scam, taking advantage of government procurement policies that are focused on up-front costs, while ignoring on-going expenses that occur after the next election cycle.

        • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:34AM (#50450955)

          There are entire industries built around data storage and administration solutions for regulatory compliance; it's not a trivial matter to create a system that will pass legal muster. This is far more than just a simple file repository; there's some initial software design, and also high ongoing administration costs (lots of paperwork inevitably involved.) Farming out this responsibility to a 3rd-party is a perfectly reasonable decision.

          • by torkus ( 1133985 )

            There's tons of existing audit tracking file storage options.

            Storage? Amazon or google are easy places to start - you can host the entire thing there. Heck, google can probably provide a youtube type interface for compressing footage etc. If they can handle umpteen billion hours of video then i'm sure they can handle police cameras.

            • You aren't a lawyer are you?

              I'm not either, but I know that compressing the video would be a no no in the evidence area. You are modifying the data, that isn't allowed.

              • I'm not so sure that's a hard and fast rule, especially for high quality (or lossless!) compression. Much like dashcam video and other forms of video evidence, bodycam footage will have to be erased periodically, if only because its impossible to continuously store the growing volume of every video ever recorded. And AFAIK this is a perfectly legal practice. I'm not aware of a legal precept that would make, e.g., keeping 2 years of uncompressed video fine, but deciding to keep 4 years of compressed video
            • You can't have an uber-schpiffy S/W front end with all the proper auditing options, and then just shove the back-end up to a generic public cloud; that would never pass muster; a defense lawyer would have a field day with it, and a judge would toss that evidence out on it's sorry tuchus. Too many people that are not the ones that would be testifying as to the chain-of-custody would have full R/W access to it.

              There ARE ways to construct a cloud to have all the proper legal-compliance features, which is EXAC

    • Re:Cheap (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:07AM (#50450769)

      Hardly relevant to the discussion. We are talking about enterprise storage and backup, with archival record-keeping. At a minimum I would expect two physically separated sites for storage and online duplication, plus backup and additional offsite storage. That's all stuff that comes along with the cloud storage contracts.

      When you start getting up over 100k per year as Birmingham is, it might start to look attractive to take it in-house. Depending on what sort of data storage and retention infrastructure they already have, it might make sense to build out for this purpose as well. But smaller departments will never have the capacity for doing this in-house. Not only do you need the servers, storage systems, networks and backups at two sites, you also need a 24/7 staff capable of handling it. That's way more than 100k per year just in labor. If you already have that staff and storage network in place, adding additional storage would make plenty of sense. If you don't, not so much.

      Plus, in order to do it right you need to maintain a proper chain of custody and security for the video evidence that might be used in court. And given how we've seen videos mysteriously vanish in some police abuse cases, this is no trivial matter.

      So no, a couple of 5 terabyte drives from newegg isn't gonna cut it, even for a small town police department.

    • it's even cheaper if you build a P2P distributed file storage network out of millions of PC's in millions of mommy's basements
    • Just the cost of reliable datacenter electricity alone costs more than that cheap spindle. Order that drive and see if it magically gets filled up with video, and magically makes backups of itself, which are stored for the proper amount of time before being rotated. Spindles are may 5% of enterprise storage costs (and they're not bottom of the barrel consumer drives).

      If you're a cheapskate like me, you CAN do 5 TB for $3,000 NRC, plus $150 / month.
      Times two for a backup site, so $6,000 NRC plus $300 / mon

  • So they've spent $180k a year including 5 years of storage. Doesn't sound too out of line and there's third party validation. I bet there's added expense for verifying and exporting data for prosecution and expert testimony fees.

      So when does the public get access to data we paid for?

    • So when does the public get access to data we paid for?

      Do you really want all video made public everywhere for everyone at anytime? There are privacy concerns.

      It's good that these cameras are being used but that doesn't mean that everything enters the public domain.
    • So when does the public get access to data we paid for?

      You don't; in the same way we don't get to drive around the the tanks that the military buys with our money.

  • If take into account the "Razors and Razorblades" business model for the storage, the costs don't sound too far out of line. While certainly this is far more expensive than just buying some JBODs of near-line disk, such an installation would not be nearly good enough for legal evidence.

    That said, for larger departments, this is just begging for a short-term local disk (with some sort of certified software) along with swift duplication to WORM LTO cartridges.

  • 18,000 departments, and I did some quick googling to estimate 800,000 state and local law enforcment individuals. More than cost, what preserves the public interest in access legitimacy, integrity, durability, and destruction of information? If private corporations provide such services using proprietary systems, how can anyone base legal arguments on such information given the lack of visibility and assurance in those concerns? If multiple systems are developed to provide said properties how can that be co

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:31AM (#50450937)

    Before anyone gets too worked up, a 50% GROSS profit margin is nothing too exciting for something that is basically a software business. If it were a 50% NET profit margin then that would be different and the net profit margin is the one that really matters - it's the so-called bottom line. Gross profit margins are just the revenue minus the direct cost involved in the service (direct labor and materials mostly). It does not include cost of sales, marketing, overhead, administration, indirect labor, utilities, etc)

    For comparison software companies typically have gross margins considerably higher than 50%. For example Microsoft had a 66% gross profit margin last quarter. A manufacturing company typically has gross profit margins between 10-30%. GM and Lockheed Martin have gross profits of around 11% for example. Toyota has gross profits around 20%.

  • Expensive is good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas@dsminc[ ] ['-co' in gap]> on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:33AM (#50450953) Homepage

    It leads to not keeping things around just because it was easier/cheaper than figuring out what to keep. Seems trivial to flag all open cases/complaints etc and ditch the rest after a set period.

    It also should not be a cheap NAS box onsite, It should be written out to multiple worm tapes with full audit logging. Throw in cryptographic signing preferably with a third party so you need 3 people to collude rather than 2 and happen on the device as well (with a key generated on the device within TPM type hardware). Hashes should be generated to so there is a paper trail to help prove the video has not been altered. Physical security of at least one WORM tape.

    At the end of the day it should be implemented with the least amount of trust as possible, the cop should have that hash to protect himself. The camera signing the footage coupled with a cosigning from a 3rd party makes it hard to tamper with the data. WORM tapes make it very hard to alter after the fact. A physically secured copy gives the opposing side something to examine.

    Sure all this can be gotten around point is to make it very hard to do so, and that no one break after the fact can succeed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    After a month (or 6) compress it, encrypt it, tag it with metadata and throw it into Amazon Glacier for 1 cent a GB, plus upload fees (or send a copy of a physical hard drive...).
    Unless they are reviewing a stream for a case, they really don't need everything to be instantly available.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:37AM (#50450975)

    Amazon and Google could go to each state and offer a state-wide contract that puts all of the data in their clouds for peanuts compared to what these providers charge.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @10:56AM (#50451117) Homepage
    I work as a storage tech for a police video footage storage company. we guarantee indefinite archives, with five 9's of uptime in a secure location. At first people were skeptical of the prices, but using the latest high speed storage devices on a linux platform, theres simply no beating our performance.
    Storage to /dev/null (our in-house application) is automatic, and a monthly bill is generated once the null fills up which includes maintenance fees like replacing the old null with a fresh, empty null for storage. This fee, also referred to as an "invoice for the purchase of a Rolls Royce" is our only frustration as our billing system is confusing for customers. Things like "Vacation package, Spain" are actually the normal cost of sourcing fresh nulls and installing them. invoices for services such as "yacht" and "truffle pheasant" refer to our restore service which uses "/dev/urandom" technology to provide nearly infinite high quality video.
  • Body cameras are the fastest growing segment of the police video camera business. The two largest police body camera manufacturers today — Taser and VieVu — say they've shipped devices to 41% of the nation's 18,000 police departments.

    Any particular nation?

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @11:12AM (#50451259)

    Body cameras haven't been around long enough to really know whether they will be predominantly exculpatory for the police or provide evidence of misconduct.

    But doesn't relying on a vendor who has a financial interest in continued sales to police organizations in charge of storing possible evidence of police misconduct create a significant moral hazard for Taser?

    If they come to be seen as an organization "too cooperative" with enforcement of rules against police misconduct, doesn't this imperil their image with the police and potential sales of equipment to the police? It would seem this would provide them with a subtle pro-police bias which could undermine the entire point of video cameras from the public's perspective.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's no worse than the video being in the possession of the police themselves. Citizens who want to protect themselves against police misconduct will have to take their own video as they have had to in the past.
      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I think it is worse -- when the police control it, the moral hazard and control issues are pretty obvious.

        When a third party controls it, it's more opaque. The police have plausible deniability to say "But we use a third party vendor, we didn't delete that video." The fact that Taser has a financial relationship with police departments is much less clear (to the general public at least) and it's a lot less clear that Taser has a neutral motivation with regard to these videos.

        To me, the solution should mo

        • The other side of this argument is that while individual police agencies don't have to retrieve video very often (except perhaps for very large ones, like NYPD), Taser will be getting requests on a daily basis. If they fail to "find" a substantial portion of those videos, it's going to become obvious -- and public -- very quickly. And the story will be that they're failing to do the primary job for which the taxpayers are paying them tens or hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That in turn will genera

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            But that's thing with a moral hazard -- just look at banking and securities. If you jack around the majority of your customers, it will become public and cause a shitstorm, but it doesn't make the moral hazard go away nor has it prevented all manner of moral hazards in banking from being exploited.

            And not every -- or any -- potentially "lost" video is going to be tied to some high profile incident where some innocent black woman in a wheel chair took a dozen rounds of 00-buck to her face. The most likely

            • As long as they're careful to never lose video that may become the subject of media attention, I suppose it's possible. That seems like a game that's guaranteed to end badly, though, because it's not possible to know what will and will not become big news. Some things are obviously big (e.g. deaths) but lesser issues may not blow up until some subsequent sequence of events.

              It seems like a really risky business strategy for Taser... and if any journalist ever caught wind of the "soft points", or any whistl

              • by swb ( 14022 )

                The thing is, I don't think it would be a stated business strategy.

                The nature of most moral hazards isn't that they're obvious conspiracies to do the wrong thing, but a set of biases and bad incentives that lend themselves to creating a situation where bad choices get made.

                As an example, drug addiction is a moral hazard for doctors. Doctors know that drugs can be habit forming. We expect doctors to be experts in administering them, to have reasonable ease of access to them for treating patients as best th

  • "...the video cameras themselves cost about $180,000"

    Choked on my sandwich on that one.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why? That's $600 each, for 300 light weight, ruggedized cameras including all the associated hardware (batteries that will run the camera system for an entire 8-12 hour shift, spare batteries, chargers, docks, etc.). It likely also includes a few hot-spare cameras so that when one dies, it can be replaced *immediately* instead of waiting 2-3 days for the new one to show up in the mail, get configured, etc...

  • One thing this setup does is to create a large target for criminals, foreign intelligence agencies, terrorists or anyone wanting to break into the video storage to learn about how a specific police department works.
  • by minstrelmike ( 1602771 ) on Thursday September 03, 2015 @12:56PM (#50452017)
    The cost of storage will come down somewhat as folks figure out they're getting screwed by the vendors.
    But you need to come up with retention policies and rock hard evidence handling processes. Those are an extra cost
    but the biggest cost of all with be if there's a conviction using the film. If so, you've got to store that for the length of the prison term for appeals and stuff. The cost of the cameras themselves is irrelevant over the lifetime of the "project." same old same old.
  • The real reason of this costly storage is that incriminating evidence of an LEO executing someone can be completely deleted at a moments notice, with the traces left behind as that of a cosmic ray / solar flare incident.

    That there is zero talk of all the data being recorded to and held only by the DOJ is related to the same reason that there is _still_ no centralized, national database of LEOs shooting and killing people. It speaks volumes about the real agenda of state / local LEO w.r.t. all the minority

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