How large is a petabyte?

The terminology — a unit of digital information that equals to one quadrillion bytes — has been introduced to Hamilton police’s vocabulary, as it considers equipping officers with body-worn cameras and managing the enormous amount of data those cameras would generate.

 “We all deal with megabytes at home,” Superintendent Paul Morrison told the Hamilton Police Services Board at its monthly meeting on Monday. “A Megabyte to me is an apple. A petabyte is a whole orchard.” 

'Let’s keep it on the radar, but let’s not make any commitment at this point.' - Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire on a body-worn camera program

And managing the footage comes with a hefty price tag too — Morrison estimated that it costs $1.6 million to store 1 petabyte of data.

The board got a closer look at the costs and issues of a potential body-worn camera program at Monday's meeting. Board members then passed a motion to create a steering committee to evaluate the hardware, software, storage, operation and implementation of the program and its costs.

The committee will spend a year studying body-worn camera pilot projects in other police forces to see if Hamilton police should also conduct its own.

5-year total: $6M to $14M

The most significant cost of such program is the storage of the data generated by the cameras. One estimate shows that an officer will generate 3 gigabytes of data per shift. That translates to between $256,000 to $2.5 million of storage costs, depending on whether the police force chooses to use dedicated servers or cloud storage.  

The footage needs to be stored for two years to safeguard the police force from lawsuits, which contributes to the hefty price tag, according to Morrison. Footage of some incidents — such as homicide and sexual assaults — needs be stored permanently.

The costs of the cameras vary too, ranging from $350 to $1,500 per unit. It is estimated that the police force needs 190 cameras, which means a price tag of $66,500 to $285,000. Docking stations, mounting devices, USB connectors and other gadgets will also incur extra charge.

In addition to software and hardware, the police force needs to create 9 new positions to manage the data. For example, two video vetting technicians are needed to review the footage and blur sensitive information, such as people’s faces and medical information. Two transcription clerks and a clerk that handles Freedom of Information requests are also needed. The annual staffing expense is estimated to be $752,696.

Altogether, the program would cost the police force $1.5 million to $3.8 million every year. And based on the lifespan of hardware, which should be replaced every five years, the five-year total of the program ranges from $6.8 million to $14.8 million.

“It is an expensive police technology, and you have to decide whether it’s worth it at this time,” said Morrison, who presented the findings to the board and recommended the creation of the steering committee. 

'Proceed cautiously'

Chief of Police Glenn De Caire, in supporting Morrison’s presentation and its recommendations, said the police force needs to “proceed cautiously.”

“Let some of the technology develop. Let’s some of the pilot projects develop,” he told the board. “Let’s keep it on the radar, but let’s not make any commitment at this point.”

De Caire and Morrison's quotes are sourced from independent journalist Joey Coleman's live stream of the meeting.

The topic of body-worn cameras has been on top of the police board’s agenda after the death of Steve Mesic, who was shot and killed during an encounter with police officers in June 2013.

Norm Dorr, Mesic’s father-in-law, has been actively campaigning for the use of body-worn camera since the incident.

The SIU cleared the two officers of any wrongdoings. A coroner’s inquest into Mesic’s death in June came up with 10 recommendations. One of the recommendations asked the Hamilton police to monitor Toronto police’s lapel camera pilot project and implement something similar if it gets good results.