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In today’s tech-obsessed world, use of digital video is on the rise. Even in law enforcement, police adoption of body-worn cameras (BWC) is rapidly increasing. Camera usage is improving police-citizen relations and easing tensions by lowering the number of use-of-force complaints.

Naturally, the use of video evidence in court is also gaining attention. BWCs that effectively capture digital evidence that can be shared with judicial partners, can help determine if a case should be brought to trial. That evidence can provide unbiased information for effectively prosecuting a case as objectively as possible, strengthening the criminal justice process.

To avoid potential pitfalls and get the most from this technology, it’s critical to develop a holistic approach to capturing digital evidence, maintaining chain-of-custody and efficiently managing it to be shared.

For starters, there are certain considerations when it comes to the cameras themselves, such as the camera’s field of view and wearability. Then there is audio capture and quality. As multimedia continues to be a substantial part of case evidence, video is only one component. While flexible mounting and physical camera design can be instrumental in ensuring officers of all sizes can accurately capture visually what happened, audio evidence can provide valuable context for an officer’s actions when heard alongside that video.

But capturing audio is not straightforward. An audio recording is going to pick up ambient noises, like a dispatcher on the radio, a car’s siren, and even people talking or shouting in the background. All of these contribute to providing valuable context to how a situation unfolded.

That said, they can also overpower other noises and things that were said on scene. Suddenly, the digital evidence isn’t as helpful in accurately portraying how an officer perceived a situation. This kind of interference can affect the usefulness of the digital evidence in prosecution and defense decisions.

When deciding on a body-worn camera, ensure that video isn’t the only thing you’re evaluating.

The ability of the camera to record audio as it was heard on scene can be vitally important in accurately portraying how an incident unfolded to the courts, or to the public. Just as with physical evidence, steps must be taken, from capture to courtroom, to ensure that digital evidence is valid and untainted.

These steps are essential to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system and reinforce the public’s confidence. For any evidence used in a case, there has to be a validated chain-of-custody to avoid the risk of the evidence being ruled inadmissible in court. Handoffs of digital evidence throughout its journey from capture, to storage to use in court, must be evaluated for its security posture. Starting with the device, you should know how the BWC was authenticated on the system, from what point chain-of-custody can actually be validated for the evidence and whether the digital evidence is encrypted while at-rest on the BWC.

It is also important to consider the storage, processing, and sharing stages of digital evidence handoffs. For instance, if using Wi-Fi for efficient upload to the cloud for storage, it is critical that the Wi-Fi access point is secure.

Digital evidence should also be encrypted in-transit to the cloud as well as at-rest in the cloud, just as it was on the device. Throughout digital evidence processing and review activities, policies should be in place that determine who has access to digital evidence and how they are able to access it. Any actions taken with that digital evidence should be audit-logged, and an option for chain-of-custody validation should be presented during any interaction with a file.

When digital evidence is shared for case prosecution, an original copy of the evidence should always be retained, along with any redacted or edited versions sent to your judicial partner that are required to protect personally identifiable information.

Why automation is critical

To minimize disruption from the sheer volume of content BWCs capture and create, it is important to choose a BWC solution that automates as much of the digital evidence management workflow as possible. This will ensure minimal disruption to officers and save valuable administrative time and costs for your agency in delivering to judicial partners what they need to prosecute a case successfully.

For instance, when searching through evidence, it can be tedious to manually associate pertinent file information or to comb through unorganized data. But when digital evidence can be searched for, grouped and filtered by metadata, tags, notes and incident information automatically associated with the files, that process is completed in seconds, not hours or days.

Removing personally identifiable information when sharing evidence and even consistently purging content according to state and local policies can also be tedious processes if done manually. Consider integrated capabilities within your digital evidence management software, such as object-based redaction and retention schedules assigned to tags to automate it. Automated processing facilitates better cooperation and collaboration with judicial partners by fulfilling requests more efficiently without having to hire additional administrative staff. This means not only are you able to successfully close cases faster, but you are even saving budget that can be used to retain or add officers in the field.

Maximizing value

The unique ability of BWCs to capture digital evidence can be a powerful way to further strengthen the criminal justice process and defuse community tensions. They can provide accurate and unbiased information while ensuring accountability and transparency to the community. A complete understanding of a BWC solution’s end-to-end impact on holistic evidence capture, chain-of-custody, and administrative efficiency, helps you to avoid pitfalls in using that digital evidence captured to successfully prosecute cases.

For more information on a solution that ensures the successful use of your body-worn video evidence in court, visit: https://www.motorolasolutions.com/en_us/solutions/digital-evidence-management-solution/things-to-consider.html


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