Cloud-based solutions are more reliable, accessible, inexpensive and safe for police departments.
In police work, nearly every modern criminal investigation results in the accumulation of a large amount of electronic data. Due to the proliferation of cell phones, surveillance systems, personal computers and social media criminal investigators frequently search for, and recover, valuable clues contained in digital media files and all of those files become evidence that needs to be stored.
In addition to the digital evidence that’s recovered, the investigation of crime itself produces its own volumes of data in the form of digital photos from the crime scene, database searches, 3D scans, dash and body cams and more.
The challenge for law enforcement is securely managing and storing all of this ever-growing data while keeping it accessible in an increasingly mobile environment. To remain successful law enforcement needs to do what most other sectors have already done… leverage the benefits of hyper scale computing available in the cloud. In fact, most experts agree that when it comes to law enforcement agencies moving to the cloud it’s not a question of if, but when.
Broadly defined, cloud-based systems are any that use the internet to store, manage, and process data off-site rather than on a local server. While many departments have been reluctant to migrate to the cloud for a variety of reasons, adopting cloud-based resources can actually make case management much more efficient, and even more secure.
Cloud providers operate on massive scales and offer the highest levels of expertise and resources that simply aren’t available at most police departments, this adds value for agencies moving to the cloud including increased reliability, accessibility, security and integrity.
Security of sensitive data has always been a concern of law enforcement and understandably this has been the primary inhibitor to adopting cloud solutions. However, what some in law enforcement may find surprising is that many IT experts believe that cloud based systems are actually more secure than conventional ones. In fact, Gartner, a leading research company, projects that the number of breaches of cloud based systems will be at least 60% lower than legacy environments by the year 2020.
Benefit #1 Compliance
Compliance is a big concern for all law enforcement agencies, but it’s a mistake to assume cloud based systems can’t comply. In fact, the FBI’s CJIS division (Criminal Justice Information Services) has policies and recommendations that apply to both on premise and cloud-based software and storage solutions.
Agencies should ensure that case management is included in their compliance plan. Even if an agencies RMS system is CJIS compliant it may not provide adequate functionality for complete case management forcing some investigative work to be carried out with standalone software or home-grown solutions that may not be compliant for storing criminal justice information. This can present a real problem for an agency, especially when facing a security breach or an audit.
In the end compliance is a shared responsibility between the law enforcement agency and the cloud provider and each department’s needs must be handled on an individual basis. Many providers can not only help achieve compliance, but they are also well-versed in dealing with government agencies. Some providers even specialize in law enforcement cloud solutions and provide tailored services so an agency doesn’t have to go it alone.
Benefit #2 Controlled Costs
Starting up with cloud-based providers basically involves negotiating a contract and paying an ongoing subscription cost. With no equipment to install, it’s less expensive upfront and faster to get started. Agencies also enjoy the benefit of paying only for what you need since scaling up as demand increases is always possible later.
Conversely, on-premise installations can cost departments considerable time and money up-front. Besides the price of the equipment itself, there are significant expenses with on-premise solutions including IT overhead. Keeping experienced staff on the payroll to support, update and maintain the solution comes at a price.
Law enforcement is already struggling with managing terabytes of stored information – but now with devices such as bodycams, they’re dealing with petabytes. And the amount of data is projected to double every two years. With on-premise storage, the cost of building out a solution to handle this data can be daunting. The cloud can be more manageable since you pay for what you use and purchase more as needed. The possibility also exists that as cloud providers experience more competition costs may decrease even further.
Benefit #3 Redundancy
On-premise data storage is sometimes at the mercy of luck if it is not backed up anywhere else – which is an all too common practice, especially with limited law enforcement budgets. Attacks and other natural disasters have the potential to completely destroy data and there is no way to get it back if no redundancy exists.
With cloud storage, redundancies are typically inherent in the process, so the agency doesn’t spend time planning or worrying about backing up data, it happens automatically.
The big cloud providers maintain separate datacenters for government customers located in completely separate datacenters throughout the continental US. The datacenters are highly secure and the personnel employed there undergo background checks. Redundant copies of data is stored in these different datacenters which are located more than 500 miles apart to ensure geographic redundancy in the event of natural disaster or attack.
Benefit # 4 Protection from Ransomware Attacks
Cyberattacks are on the rise. Doxxing (hacking and broadcasting agency personnel information) and ransomware is a real threat to the security and productivity of a department. Ransomware attackers encrypt the victim’s sensitive data and hold it hostage refusing to unfreeze it unless the victim pays a specific sum of money (often a few hundred dollars in Bitcoin). A surprising number of police departments have fallen victim to these attacks and quite a few have lost years of data thereby compromising important cases. As you might imagine older systems in use at many law enforcement agencies make the best targets for these cyber-attacks.
Cloud-based solutions, on the other hand are maintained by providers that have invested tremendous amounts of capital in security and have the best expertise devoted to thwarting potential attacks. The cloud cannot completely protect your data, but it can lessen the probability of attack, and the redundancies inherent in cloud computing provide the best recourse in the event an attack occurs.
For almost all departments, a cloud-based solution has more pros than cons. Departments that have large legacy IT infrastructure and the capability to maintain it may decide to keep data on-premise, often times supplemented with cloud based backup for redundancy. But for small and mid-sized departments with aging or inadequate systems it may not be practical to build a new on-premise solution from scratch.
Find out more about secure, cloud-based case management software for your department.
About the Author: Michael Cunningham has more than 27 years of experience with the New York City Police Department and achieved the rank of Detective First Grade. He is now part of the ShotSpotter Investigate case management team and stays active in the industry instructing courses in forensics and response to terrorist incidents.