How to buy body-worn cameras
Written by: Vaughan O'Grady | Published:

Body-worn cameras offer more functionality, durability and connectivity than ever. But these days it’s not just about the camera, or indeed the emergency services market, as Vaughan O’Grady discovers

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have come a long way in a short time – from simple record-only video cameras to cameras that offer exceptional audio-visual quality and durability. “Our camera solutions have expanded to include an advanced, robust suite of body cameras, including point-of-view cameras and in-car camera systems,” says a spokesperson for Axon, a supplier of what it describes as “connected devices and apps that work together to protect life”.

There is even live streaming over wireless networks. The Axon Body 3 is a case in point. “Agencies will be able to receive immediate safety alerts, like when a gunshot is detected, as well as review video over LTE and upload wirelessly without waiting to dock,” says Axon.

Bart van der Aa, CEO of Zepcam, which offers solutions for body-worn video and mobile video for professional use, notes that live video can create better situational awareness. Thus not only the user but also someone in the command and control room has eyes in the field. An example of this is the Zepcam T1 Live, a body-worn video system that is able to wirelessly stream video and data to computers and command and control centres.

However, while some police forces find streaming useful, as Joshua Flood, senior research consultant at Valour Consultancy, a provider of market intelligence and actionable consultancy, notes, “only a small portion of BWCs deployed have Wi-Fi or cellular capabilities”.

Doing a lot of streaming over 4G or (when it arrives) 5G isn’t necessarily feasible. It is also expensive. Alan Whitley, sales director of Pinnacle Response, a manufacturer of body-worn video cameras for police forces and the professional security sector, says: “Streaming back one-hour footage is 3.12GB. If you have 20 cameras in operation streaming back 30 minutes per day, that’s a huge amount of data.”

In fact, for most non-police end-users, transferring video at the end of a shift is usually enough (modern cameras tend to have long standby times and good on-device storage), though the Pinnacle PR6 does offer another option. It is a Wi-Fi-connected device supplied to a lot of stadiums and football clubs around the UK. A security guard can record an incident, stop the recording and press the Wi-Fi button on the side of the camera. “What that will do is stream back across Wi-Fi the last recorded asset only,” Whitley explains.

However, non-policing applications, especially if live streaming, may also incur GDPR compliance issues. Even recorded and stored assets need to be monitored. “If it’s non-evidential it cannot be retained for longer than 30 days,” says Whitley. If you share information with a third party you also need to ensure that your supplier offers software that allows for redaction (blurring of faces, car registration numbers or door numbers).

Modern cameras are not always standalone. Axon’s spokesperson says: “From body-worn cameras to digital evidence management, every product we create is seamlessly integrated to work together on a single network.”

However, the camera itself isn’t always the main focus. Valour’s Flood adds that in most cases, “from a technological standpoint, today’s BWCs fulfil most customers’ requirements. It’s the digital management storage system for keeping the footage and price of the overall IT solution package that are the biggest factors.”

Whitley agrees: “The focus now in our industry is not so much on the camera itself but the back-end footage management software. Where you make the difference is how usable your solution is – how easy is it to [assign] a camera? How easy is it to upload? How easy is it to share the data? And that’s what we focus on.”

Zepcam’s van der Aa says: “All these cameras stream and offload their video and other data to our backend, where clients can watch the live streams and manage the live cameras but also can watch the [files] being offloaded for evidence. From there they can make decisions on what to keep or not to keep, what to share or create a case [file].”

For storage, van der Aa continues: “We offer two solutions. One is our cloud solution – Zepcam organises the hosting and is responsible for it. The other one is the on-premises software solution. And then the software runs on the servers or the IT system of the client. In Europe most clients still use the on-premise solution because of IT regulations – or sometimes the privacy laws demand that.”

Axon offers a cloud-based digital evidence management system, Axon Evidence, that allows officers to store and manage their evidence securely. “Cloud offers a predictable storage cost for agencies, and its scalability makes it a reliable option as the amount of digital evidence from body-worn cameras increases,” says its spokesperson. “Axon Evidence can help transform things like sharing with lawyers and prosecutors, redaction, and the day-to-day management of digital evidence through efficient workflows.”

On-premise options are unlikely to have the scalability of cloud. Nor is the software as easy to update. Flood says: “The [cloud storage] solution is cost-effective for the amount of data stored, easy to operate and understand, and accessibility is straightforward.” However, like van der Aa, he notes “there are some issues around data protection, and where technically the data is stored, particularly if the video footage needs to be stored nationally”.

Meanwhile, this market is changing. Whitley says: “Non-policing is a good 80 per cent of our business and it’s growing – that’s what we’ll continue to focus on.”

Flood adds: “There is huge demand for BWCs for traffic wardens, lone workers, security guards, prison officers, and other emergency workers like fire persons or paramedics.” Similarly, field engineers or maintenance engineers are another possible source of custom, notably when connectivity allows experts to be consulted wirelessly.

Perhaps, however, the main appeal of BWC for non-emergency services is, as Flood says, that “it creates a video digital footprint of the user’s views and it can be used to combat inaccurate perspectives from other people”. In fact, Whitley points out that the most important use may not even require switching on a BWC. “Their biggest use is that deterrent factor. The power of having a body-worn camera strapped to you is nine times out of 10 enough.”

Advice to buyers
What should you near in mind when procuring a BWC? Axon, which has a strong presence in the blue-light industry, recommends field trials, and adds: “Agencies should consider everything from the device to the mobile apps and the entire process from ‘capture to court’ – including recording the important footage, redacting sensitive details like licence plates and faces, sharing and managing the case, and presenting the footage in court. We encourage customers to consider the quality of not only the body-worn camera itself but also of the evidence management system that will house the data they collect.”

Many emergency services are now on their third or fourth cycle of purchasing BWCs. What should newcomers consider? Valour’s Flood suggests that would-be purchasers ask themselves:

  • Are the BWCs fit for purpose?
  • How do we transfer all the footage collected onto a storage system
  • time-effectively?
  • How do we recharge these devices and is any maintenance required?
  • How do we manage/store this data effectively: locally or on the cloud?
  • How much does each solution cost and what are the pros and cons?
  • How much does a BWC cost?
  • What are the policies/warranties related to malfunctions/breakages?

“A sensible approach to procurement,” adds Flood, “is a minimum of three vendors pitching for your business, isolating the three core components of a BWC solution: the camera device (quality of footage, functionality, battery life, durability, warranty of replacements, charging); the storage solution (do you want local or cloud storage? How do you search for certain footage? How many people can access the footage? Does its meet with judicial standards of evidence management? What is your exit strategy if you want to change suppliers?); and then the nuts and bolts of pricing options (is it purchased upfront, or a monthly contract? Is the cost of the hardware included with the storage solution?).”

Start with pilots, says Zepcam’s van der Aa, adding: “Use the cloud solution so you don’t have any problems setting up IT in your own organisation – and find out where the real benefits are in your organisation. Based on that you should start developing a plan for scaling up.”

You may also need to think ahead, he suggests. Is your vendor platform future-proof? Can it support more cameras? Is it ready for video analytics or redaction? Can it be integrated into other systems? “It’s important to have a platform which has flexibility,” he points out.

And find someone you can trust. Pinnacle’s Whitley notes: “As BWCs have become more widely accepted, there’s an influx of cheaper products. When you look at a product with a raft of specs, the reality is it will probably not do that. We do 100 per cent of 10 items rather than 10 per cent of 100.”

For reference, you can also look at the Buyer’s Toolkit, which covers procurement for surveillance cameras, the Technical guidance for Body Worn Video (BWV) devices, and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Passport to compliance, all available on the gov.uk website. The British Security Industry Association site (www.bsia.co.uk) may also be useful. It played a pivotal role in the development of the BS 8593 Code of Practice for the deployment and use of BWV.

But a few fundamental points should be borne in mind throughout. As Whitley says: “What are you trying to achieve with body-worn? A lot of customers don’t consider that before going into the process. Are you being compliant? Speak to customers who use product. Don’t go into this blind.”

What to consider: the main dos and don'ts of buying body-worn cameras

  • Do consider the entire flow of the evidence and data you’ll be collecting – you’ll need a system that
    can manage it and ensures that the chain of evidence is preserved.
  • can manage it and ensures that the chain of evidence is preserved.
  • Do consider BWCs even if you’re not in the public safety sector – if your employees regularly are in situations where it is one person’s word against another’s, they can help cut legal bills and deter bad behaviour.
  • Do carry out a pilot study to get a feel for the benefits and the work required to roll out BWCs across your organisation.
  • Don’t forget to think of the future –consider how your requirements may change and whether the system you’re considering will be flexible enough to support them.
  • Don’t sign on the dotted line without considering whether or not you’ll be locked into a specific vendor.

A view from the Toronto Police Service
Michael Barsky, acting superintendent #4420 at the Toronto Police Service No. 52 Division, says: “In choosing the body-worn camera solution that is right for your environment, you must first consider what you are going to be using the device for. Once you have decided the purpose of the device in your environment, you need to meet with those officials in the area of human rights, privacy, freedom of information, applicable unions and prosecuting attorneys. These key players will inform your pursuit, and guide you to the right solution, by providing insight into their concerns and requirements.

“Your team should then determine what mandatory requirements you believe you have for the technology, including camera, software, disclosure processes and storage. Then, and only then, will you be properly placed to determine whether there is an applicable solution for your needs, at an affordable cost.”


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