Toronto Police Services digitizes videos for fast access

Toronto Police Services has found a way to streamline a manual process for dealing with the 54,000 evidence videos it receives a year to its video services unit that records crime scenes and police procedures like custodial interviews and breath tests.

The new Video Asset Management System (DVAMS) is deployed at this time across the Homicide, Sex Crimes, Fraud Squad and Traffic Services unit, as well as suburban divisions 22, 32 and 41, which are also breath testing centres.

John Sandeman, manager of the video services unit with Toronto Police Service, said there are about 125 videos that come into the video services unit every morning that police officers have dropped off in secure evidence bins around the city. “Every piece of video and how it’s handled has to be documented for the courts, so that’s a very labour-intensive process,” said Sandeman.


He said unit staff would have to manually type in the meta data into the video management system, but with DVAMS, video evidence exists in digital form on a police network that law enforcement officers can access without having to wait for a copy to be made wherever there is the appropriate workstation, regardless of location.

“The officers will simply go onto a touch screen, touch a button, do an interview, do a booking, or do a breath test, and it goes right on to the network,” said Sandeman. “Immediately after they’ve done the network video, they can watch it on any network workstation, so it doesn’t matter where they are in the city.”

DVAMS is also efficient in that a video captured several months ago can be easily retrieved from the network, rather than having to identify where it is physically housed among four possible locations, said Sandeman. “If it’s an exterior location, they would have to get into a car, drive to that location, get the video, bring it back and make a copy,” he said.

Besides workflow efficiency, DVAMS allows police officers to share video evidence and potentially identify a suspect connected to crimes committed in different cities, said Sandeman.

The deployment of DVAMS was a two-year implementation process by Herndon, Va.-based MediaSolv Solutions Corp. The company’s CEO Jim Weaver said it’s not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to use multiple systems, or what he calls “stove pipe systems,” to manage video assets.

Besides centralizing video access and management at Toronto Police Services, Weaver said integrity of evidence is crucial given the sensitive nature of the videos. For that reason, DVAMS includes an authentication process that leaves a hash mark at the time of evidence creation. “So, in a court of law we can go in and confirm that the video the court is looking at is the original asset that was generated at the time of initiation,” said Weaver.

There’s also a chain of custody report that captures when and by whom a video is accessed, altered, or printed to DVD. Sandeman acknowledged that continuity and chain of custody are huge concerns with law enforcement videos because any change to the evidence could potentially make it inadmissible in court.

Sandeman said that ideally, the next step will be for the courts to house the same server as the Toronto Police Services so the prosecution and defence will also have access to the digital evidence without needing a DVD shipped to them.Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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