GPN reached out to Eric Blanchard, police chief in Aransas Pass, Texas (population 8,329). Blanchard has been chief since 2012 and has been in in and around Redfish Bay almost 16 yrs. In his spare time, the chief build websites and writes computer code. We asked the chief for pointers on choosing the right police video camera system. The department uses Taser AXON Flex police body cameras and the Taser evidence.com storage solution. The department also uses Axon cameras with the headband for patrol.
GPN: How did your department select its police camera and video archiving system? Do you have advice on the selection process and choosing a vendor?
Eric Blanchard: We actually tested the equipment, and that’s what I suggest other chiefs do — to test the equipment. We tested a few options to Taser products, and I couldn’t seem to get the competitors’ products to work as well. Also, Taser is telling me that they are going to be introducing a vehicle docking solution soon such that we can use on-body cams in the patrol vehicles or unmarked police vehicles. That way we’ll still have a vehicle advantage as well as the on-body advantage.
GPN: How does your department store video and other evidence? Has your department had any problems retrieving video evidence from a local server or the cloud?
EB: On our local system, we have three redundant backups so we haven’t had any loss of data locally. On the evidence.com cloud, they have redundancy and backups as well, and that’s been the most efficient method. The other feature that is nice about Taser’s evidence.com archiving solution is that it simplifies sharing video with other agencies, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and even with residents at times when they request videos. We are able to share the video as simply as sending an e-mail. You enter an e-mail address, you set the parameters or the restrictions, and then you hit share and it sends the requester a link. The people requesting can then log in and pull down the video themselves.
GPN: So, one advantage of storing police video in the cloud is that it simplifies sharing video with other law enforcement agencies?
EB: Yes, the cloud makes it easier to share video. But our county governments (Aransas, Nueces, and San Patricio Counties) are holding us back to some degree. If the counties would just start receiving the police videos by e-mail, using the technology that Taser makes available to our department and the counties, that would save my city close to $60,000 a year.
The sharing process now is quite cumbersome and expensive. We have to download and convert the video, which also degrades its quality, because we have to convert it into DVD format. We burn two DVDs for the prosecutor. On large cases, where there may be a police standoff, we have about 60 hours of video that we have to download and convert to DVD format on multiple disks and then deliver it via police cruiser. That expense rate just covers the costs of having an employee there to prepare the video for the prosecutors.
GPN: What do you see down the road with your department’s police camera and evidence storage setup?
EB: I see us expanding on the program. We just renewed for five years with Taser, and it will cost us about $21,000 or $22,000 yearly. When I came into this department in 2012, we had no relationship with our community, there was extreme distrust of law enforcement, and people believed there was corruption in the system.
I’ve used social media and open communications to change things. Cloud computing has been vital — we use our department’s videos to relate to the public. We’ve had several videos and events that have put our department in the spotlight in a positive way. These videos have been the catalyst for rebuilding and regaining that public trust and confidence.
GPN: Is your department’s police video camera program a deterrent to crime?
EB: It is a deterrent to crime and it’s a way of maintaining and carrying out our efforts for transparency in the city.
GPN: Thank you, Chief Blanchard.
The video shows operations inside the department’s 911 communications division, where dispatchers are at work.