Police body cameras produce mountains of data, questions about how to store it

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, left, speaks to media about a recent arrest along with Capt. Jim Varrone. Photo by Christina Haley, Port City Daily
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, left, speaks to media about a recent arrest along with Capt. Jim Varrone. Photo by Christina Haley, Port City Daily

Forty Wilmington police officers currently strap on body cameras before their shifts begin, then get into one of 170 police cars equipped with cameras. Seventy more body cameras are on the way, but the influx of technology designed for police – and citizen – accountability has had some unintended consequences.

How does the department manage hours upon hours of  footage after their officers hit record? Wilmington Chief of Police Ralph Evangelous is suggesting the city suspend further body camera purchases until they can figure how to get desk-bound sergeants now reviewing footage back on the streets to supervise officers.

Evangelous met with Wilmington City Council members during an agenda briefing Monday to talk about an additional 70 body cameras for his police officers and the impending data storage issue.

“It’s becoming a huge mountain; it takes 15 terabytes just to capture this data,” said Evangelous.

For those not in tune with tech language, a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes. According to whatsabyte.com a terabyte is the equivalent to “300 hours of good quality video, or 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica…ten terabytes could hold the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress.”

“This has been a nationwide push, from the White House all the way down, and everybody’s asked for it,” said Councilman Charlie Rivenbark about local departments adopting body camera usage for patrol officers. “But it seems as though this [data storage] is the unintended consequence of the body cameras, and it’s going to take extra money to carry this out to the end.”

City council members did not state where the additional money would have to come from for data support.

While Chief Evangelous said the department still needs an additional 100 cameras to cover all of his officers, he also told city council officials not to get any more video cameras until reinforcements for monitoring footage and storing data can be added to the department.

“It is my recommendation to not get any more video cameras in the field until we can get someone who is going to manage this stuff,” said Evangelous.

According to Evangelous, in order to meet standards within the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), WPD needs to randomly audit every police officer’s footage, which can be over a three-month period, or 20 to 25 percent of the officer’s recorded video footage per month. Currently, WPD sergeants are in charge of going through this data.

“Our sergeants are [monitoring this data], and they’re not in the field supervising. Do we want our supervisors watching computer screens or do we want them out there supervising, said Evangelous. “I suggest we want them out in the field.”

For Evangelous, the solution to the data storage problem would be to hire a video content manager who could sort through footage and help compress it down—with additional support from retired officers who work part-time to help monitor the video.

“We figured retired officers will know the proper conduct and proper tactics…video does us no good unless someone looks at it, for both the public and the officers,” said Evangelous. “We want to be identifying good conduct, too.”

Evangelous will discuss this topic again during Tuesday’s city council meeting, where city officials will vote on an ordinance authorizing the City Manager to accept a grant in the amount of $45,000 from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission. The grant requires a $15,000 match from the City of Wilmington, which would create a total of $60,000 in funding to assist law enforcement with technology purchases. That grant would provide the police department with funding to purchase approximately 70 body cameras.

See related story: City council considers transportation plans, second vote on ‘cottage’ housing, extra funding for WPD.

The city council meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 1 at City Hall. You can view city council’s full agenda here.

James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at james.m@portcitydaily.com On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD