In that time, Post Falls has assembled quite the archive. It is department policy to retain run-of-the-mill footage for five years, and trial evidence indefinitely, so 8-millimeter film, VHS tapes, and DVDs all reside in the local evidence room.
In the same figurative room: a server with 40 terabytes of video data, backed up to an off-site location.
Post Falls has 42 sworn officers. Forty terabytes, then, represents the scale of that team’s data exhaust. It's data output of three years of full-time recording—body and dashboard cameras, combined—and two years of partial body-camera recordings and in-car cameras.
I found that number useful. Forty terabytes is big, but it’s not unimaginable. Single-terabyte hard drives are available in every office-supply store in the country, and 20-terabyte drives are said to be coming in 2020. Companies generate 40 terabytes of data all the time.
For Haug, cameras are useful because they document officer actions. When his department began testing body cameras, it was “in an effort to ensure that what the officer was dealing with was properly documented,” he said.
Now, he sees cameras as an important part of a cop’s toolkit. Almost everyone they encounter will have cameras, so it’s important that they do, too.
“Everyone that’s out there is a photojournalist now, and we wanted to make sure officers could describe and document what they see,” he said.
“Early on, I think a lot of officers were very skeptical,” he added. “I think the majority of the officers now realize it’s a big benefit to them. A lot of officers come up to me and say, ‘I wouldn’t do police work without one now.’”
Post Falls mandates officer that body-worn cameras be turned on during all uniformed police work. Even Haug turns on his camera when he goes out in uniform.
“Any time they are taking enforcement action, the body camera is supposed to be turned on. Some agencies leave it to the discretion of officers, and I think that’s a mistake,” Haug said.
That view is supported by police sociologists, who have found officers abusing that power when it’s granted to them. Investigating a midwestern department, researchers found that even though dash cams were programmed to start filming as soon as emergency lights activated, the audio portion was still left to officer discretion. The outcome?
In terms of actual microphone use, the microphone was turned off 95 percent of the time, with partial or complete audio the other five percent of the time. […] The researchers found that officers selectively turn on microphones at certain parts of the encounter, and turn them off during other parts of an encounter.
Haug, in fact, encourages his officers to record all the time. “To me, storage is pretty inexpensive,” he said. “I would rather have a bunch of data I didn’t need, then not have it when I need it. If you don’t need it, you can always get rid of it.”