In an era of increased scrutiny and calls for greater transparency, the Petaluma Police Department is purchasing 70 new body-worn cameras and overhauling its evidence collection system by contracting with one of the largest suppliers of law enforcement technology in the country.
The city council last week authorized a $456,000 purchase agreement with Axon Enterprises, approving a licensing deal that will allow the agency to store and access evidence on an Internet-based server.
According to a report by Police Chief Ken Savano, the department previously managed digital evidence on flash drives and occasionally even burned a CD, requiring staff to physically transport content whenever it needed to be shared with another agency.
For Petaluma Lt. Brian Miller, the expectation is that the cloud-based evidence portal and top-of-the-line cameras will streamline exchanges with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, and improve the overall quality of service as the reliance on technology increases for law enforcement nationwide.
“That will further that efficiency,” Miller said. “Included in that, discovery issues are always a major concern to ensure everything is being properly provided (to the courts). This solution provides a lot of chain of custody improvements and sharing improvements that ensures the proper contents are getting to where they need to be.”
The PPD has been using body cameras since 2014 as a means to collect evidence, better address complaints and provide greater opportunities for transparency, according to Savano’s report.
The department’s policy lets officers use their discretion when it comes to activating a body camera, but calls for their use during incidents where there’s an expectation that force might be needed, Miller said.
The goal of the policy was to protect victims and potential witnesses, but since video footage has become so vital to policing, “we’ve found that officers are recording more than what’s required,” he said.
The new vendor, Axon Enterprise, is providing the agency with the Axon Body 2, a roughly 3-inch-wide HD camera with hands-free activation and a wide lens that can capture a 143-degree field of view.
With cloud-based storage, police officials will be able to instantly upload footage after each shift, and provide the public with case-specific links to Axon’s Evidence.com website so witnesses have an easier route to share any data.
“Through this software, we can send the victim or reporting party a link, and they can send back their video content directly,” Miller said.
According to Savano’s report, the PPD can also send out public links to view footage, and better comply with Assembly Bill 748, which was passed last year and expanded the California Public Records Act, requiring law enforcement to share videos of critical incidents within 45 days.
The decision to change from a physical server to Internet storage was not made lightly, Miller said. The PPD and the city’s IT department evaluated the safeguards provided by Axon, and received all the right assurances that their content would be secure.
Axon spokesperson Carley Partridge said so far their systems have never been hacked.
“We aggressively conduct security testing of our products on a regular basis,” she said. “When weaknesses are found, we move quickly to evaluate the impact and remediate the issues.”
The company has made headlines recently for its stance on adding facial recognition software to its products, a form of artificial intelligence that identifies people’s faces in photos and videos.