Managing law enforcement data

Civic leaders in Massachusetts address storage, cost, search and privacy issues and unanswered questions associated with law enforcement data

Gov1 recently hosted a roundtable event, sponsored by Tribridge, where local leaders discussed technology and their concerns in managing law enforcement data, chiefly video. The attendees — city managers, city councilors and police officials — spoke about storage, search and security of data, including privacy.

“It’s going to become a bigger risk area for all of us,” said Reading, Mass., Town Manager Bob LeLacheur.

How Long Should Video Data Be Stored?

How long police departments keep video is based on local legal requirements, operational needs for investigations, community expectations and data storage capabilities and costs.

Currently, many towns in Massachusetts operate and manage law enforcement data from video recorded inside police stations.

According to Swampscott, Mass., Police Chief Ron Madigan, his department retains footage for 30 days, due to storage limitations and costs.

There have been cases, he said, where the district attorney had requested footage after 30 days. The Swampscott police department is currently exploring the costs of larger servers. He’d like to be able to store data for up to a year, but he’s not sure if it’s going to be feasible for the town.

In a letter from Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, chair of the city’s Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, to Commissioner Bill Evans of the Boston Police Department, attendees of community forums and hearings about the upcoming Boston body camera pilot held in April were concerned about how long video is stored.

Seemingly unnecessary footage should be stored for at least 90 days, while tagged law enforcement data “should be kept for up to three years or longer,” she wrote.

How Should Video Data Be Stored and at What Cost?

Video is valuable to Chief Madigan’s department, he said, but access is a concern for him. That is why Swampscott is sticking with on-site servers for law enforcement data.

“I find it reassuring that it can’t be hacked or reached outside the department,” Madigan said.

LeLacheur agreed. “We have drawn the line with cloud,” he said. The town of Reading’s video data — from schools, intersections, town properties and from the city’s mobile cameras — “we want to protect it,” he said.

Where high tech law enforcement is seemingly a big city initiative, smaller cities in the U.S. are beginning to open state-of-the-art crime centers that use surveillance cameras, gunshot detectors and other technology to provide officers with real-time law enforcement data.

To build the Hartford high-tech crime center, the city provided capital improvement funds for construction, and federal and state technology grants, along with civil forfeiture funds, secured the technology. About 200 surveillance cameras feed the center.

A Hartford police officer said his center uses a mix of both servers and cloud storage.

Hybrid storage provides flexibility — police departments can make storage location decisions based on local requirements and any sensitivities individual municipalities may have about where certain types of video are stored.

The Hartford police officer said that even with a hybrid solution such as Hartford’s, storage isn’t that expensive.

With body camera video — there are none yet in Hartford — data storage requirements and costs could be high. For example, a 10-cop department would accumulate about one-terabyte of law enforcement data in about six months, according to information prepared by

With cloud programs, data storage costs are significantly less than on-site servers.

According to the Eagle Tribune, the city of Methuen purchased body cameras and tasers for its 47 officers, along with unlimited cloud storage, at a cost of $272,701.

For some, law enforcement video “feels like a must have, but it’s not there yet,” said LeLacheur.

In terms of cost, “It’s not [as valuable as] a cop or a teacher,” he said.

How can police departments manage privacy?

When it comes to body worn cameras, they are not currently used in Massachusetts. The city of Methuen however, is currently training its officers on how to use theirs, and they may deploy sometime in June.

And as soon as next month, 100 city of Boston police officers may also start their body camera pilot testing. After the six-month Boston body camera trial, officials could decide to require body cameras under collective bargaining contracts with the police union.

Councilor Campbell recommended, based on the general consensus of those present at the community meetings and hearings in April, that prior to entering residences, Boston police body cameras should always be off, and police should record requests for consent before entering.

Her letter also noted that anonymity for those on video should always be automated, in terms of automatically redacting the footage when it is processed and in not using facial recognition technology, in an effort to protect people’s identities.

“How do you balance people’s privacy?” asked Chief Madigan.

How do you write body camera policies?

“There is still a lot of information that has to be gathered and vetted,” said Chief McLaughlin who manages Belmont’s 48 police officers.

A study in Orlando, Fla., found that officers that wore body cameras saw less use of force and fewer community complaints.

However, cameras would also have an impact on how officers interact, according to the police chiefs at the recent roundtable in Massachusetts.

On one hand, they can help counter abuses, said Chief Madigan, but on the other, they remove a cop’s ability to use discretion.

For example, “people sometimes when they see something, they want to tell you, but they don’t want to be involved,” said Chief McLaughlin.

Cameras “could dry up those sources of information,” which are often important, he said. So, can police shut off the cameras at those times? he asked rhetorically.

“How do you write the policy so it’s adaptable?” McLaughlin asked.

How do you manage data search requests?

With the Boston body camera pilot, the data will likely be stored for 30 days and release is subject to the police commissioner’s approval of Freedom of Information Act requests, according to the department’s current policy for the upcoming pilot.

A department of 25 officers running body cameras produces about 36,800 hours of video that is potentially subject to public records disclosure requests, according to data.

The amount of law enforcement data from Boston’s six-month pilot test could be double at more than 70,000 hours of video that would need to be tagged and filed.

Handling requests, locating video, reviewing the video and redacting sensitive portions will add to law enforcement agencies' workloads. In some municipalities, agencies are holding back on body cameras because of the impact requests would have on staff, according to

To learn more about body camera policies in the U.S., access the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press interactive U.S. map and download body-worn camera policies.

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