By: Robert McKeeman, CEO of Utility, Inc.

As police departments start to roll out body-worn video cameras, and therefore also start to record a lot more body-worn video from inside homes and businesses, personal privacy in police videos is becoming a very big issue. Victims, innocent bystanders, minors, and undercover police officers are going to be recorded on many more police body-worn videos.

Many state and local laws and policies require that video be redacted before it is released in response to Media and “Sunshine Law” Open Records Requests. If this video redaction has to be done manually, it will place a severe financial and staffing burden on a law enforcement agency. If redacted video is not provided on a timely basis, or the fee for a redacted video is thousands of dollars, some citizen and media groups will perceive the police department is attempting to hide incriminating video.

Manually redacting video can take 5 to 10 hours of skilled technician time for one hour of video. Thirty frames per second x 60 seconds per minute x 60 minutes per hour totals 108,000 frames in a one-hour video. That is a lot of video frames to redact manually. At $50 per hour, one hour of video could cost a police department $250 to $500 to redact. That is, if they have the technical staff on hand to do manual redaction.

Between Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from citizens and the media, and legal demands from prosecutors and defense attorneys, the amount of video that will need to be redacted will add up very quickly. Police administrative costs will skyrocket and logistical bottlenecks are created. Long delays in releasing redacted video will damage the public’s confidence in police accountability and transparency.

These costs and bottlenecks are significant enough to cause some police departments to consider putting limitation policies on video release, including the refusing to make any body-worn camera video available to the media or in response to Open Records requests.

However, these limitations run counter to the 21st Century Policing Accountability and Transparency principles. Public policy should never be dictated by a false assumption that video can only be redacted manually at a high cost with a long production lead-time. Fortunately, technology has now solved this problem.

Proprietary software called Smart Redaction™ was developed that can automatically redact hours of body-worn camera video in minutes. This fast and cost-effective solution can meet the rapidly growing need to redact police body-worn video to enhance police Accountability and Transparency, as well as personal privacy of victims, innocent bystanders, minors, and undercover police officers.

Smart Redaction software automatically blurs out only faces and personally identifiable markings such as body tattoos. A police department can quickly protect the privacy and identity of victims, innocent bystanders, minors and undercover police officers in police in-car and body-worn video, and can deliver the redacted video within minutes if need be. Smart Redaction can also redact all or segments of audio in the video as needed.

Smart Redaction works in a number of ways. It can automatically identify and redact all faces and body parts in a video. Alternatively, a video administrator can simply select one or more objects (faces, license plates, driver’s licenses, medical records, etc.) in a video to redact. Smart Redaction will then automatically redact the selected object(s) as they move around in the video.

Alternatively, a video administrator can select one or more objects to not redact, and then Smart Redaction redacts all faces and body parts in the video except the objects selected to remain clear. Smart Redaction does the redaction work on a copy of the original video, so the Chain of Custody on the original video is never broken.

Once the redaction is completed, the video administrator gets a notification when the redacted video is completed and ready to distribute. A video administrator can launch any number of video redaction jobs in parallel. Video administrator training is fast and easy. Video can be redacted in minutes instead of days or weeks.

Smart Redaction allows police departments to respond to a rapidly growing volume of FOIA requests for body-worn video on a timely basis, without hiring a large staff of skilled and expensive manual redaction technicians to redact video. Smart Redaction will save millions of dollars in manual video redaction labor costs, while at the same time enabling Police Accountability and Transparency.

Until now, police departments have been in a tough spot between accountability, transparency and cost. But police departments can now quickly and reliably redact body-worn video at a low cost to respond to a rapidly rising tide of body-worn video FOIA requests. The public and the media will have more confidence that their police department is accountable and transparent in citizen interactions when body-worn video FOIA requests are fulfilled on a timely basis.

 

Robert McKeeman is the CEO and Chairman of Utility, Inc., a software company based in Decatur, Ga. He is a Software Quality Engineer and has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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