Using Blockchain to Prevent Police Corruption & Brutality

Note: This framework does not assume guilt or innate corruption of police. Rather, it works towards filling the gap between the rare release of police report data and body camera footage and proof that police have not tampered with zed reports/footage prior to the submission of evidence in court. The proposed technology within this article is trademarked and patent-pending.

Trust between the Police and Black/Brown communities is at an all time low. With increased videod instances of police brutality and a complete lack of bipartisanship implementation of police accountability laws (like requiring the usage body cameras by state police forces), communities and their respective public servants are being torn apart by miscommunication, dangerous stereotypes, and politicized agendas.

Introducing Record

Digital Evidence Transparency Blockchain

Record is a novel application of blockchain technology to better facilitate transparency issues between police and the diverse communities they serve. It also creates a framework to decrease data storage costs 10x fold, empowering forces to leverage forward thinking policing practices without breaking their budgets. Our team attempts to affect change in four niche areas:

  1. Create increased, immutable transparency between police and communities of color by hashing police body camera, dash camera, and police report data on a publically viewable blockchain
  2. Prevent over-exposure of police data to ensure to integrity of evidence not yet leveraged in court by encrypting its storage
  3. Exponentially lower the cost of police data storage by leveraging decentralized, sharded cloud storage frameworks
  4. Empower the legal community to use blockchain transaction details in court to prove/disprove police tampering of evidence

Here, we look at current aspects of the policing system and then attend to ways Record can solve them.

Body-Camera Footage Tampering

Body camera usage within police forces across the US is starting to become commonplace. The Obama administration proposed a $75 million program to equip agencies with 50,000 cameras, and the Department of Justice has pledged $20 million to expand the use of police body cameras. According to 2013 survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of departments used dashboard cameras, and only 21 percent employed body cameras — numbers that are most certainly higher after the recent push [1].

Currently, every state in the US exempts police from public records requests. In part, this is to to withhold records in order to protect active investigations, public safety, or national security. However, the other side of this practice makes it incredibly difficult to request police data when the case’s integrity is under scrutiny.

As more police forces adopt the usage of body cameras, the new conversation becomes, “Who gets to view the footage?”

In cases in which police body camera footage is being questioned, the court requires footage to be analyzed by editing professionals to determine whether evidence has been tampered with or not. This costs the state each and every time a questionable case comes to court. In fact, it’s almost impossible to tell if police camera footage has been edited.

So how is footage tampering accountability attended to now?

  1. As soon as a cop turns the camera on in the field, the device starts keeping track of what’s being filmed [1].
  2. The frames of footage are assigned a digital ID. At the end of a shift, when an officer uploads the footage, this ID makes sure all of the film makes it onto the system. The camera won’t erase anything until the downloaded film matches up with the digital record [1].
  3. Once the footage is archived, the system starts a security trail of everyone who watches, edits, or otherwise interacts with the video. Taser (now Axon) runs a cloud-based subscription service, Evidence.com, for managing this kind of footage. While it’s possible to delete the original video, the record of who watched it, who edited it, and who, ultimately, deleted it would remain [1].
However, none of these high tech security protocols prevent law enforcement from editing the footage that’s released to the public. A pristine copy of a police camera video may be stored in a software system, but if the public can’t access it, it doesn’t matter [1].

In addition, some states require footage to be destroyed after a certain period of time. House Bill 1584 requires body-worn camera recordings be destroyed “no sooner than 30 days and no longer than 180 days” from the date of recording. Footage that shows the use of deadly force/restraint by an officer, the discharge of a firearm, a death or serious bodily injury, or an encounter resulting in a complaint must be retained for at least three years.

The bill enforces the elimination of potential evidence regarding police corruption, and, paired with our current inability to confidently determine if footage has been edited — we’re left with nothing or something that could be manipulated.

So how can Record prevent Body-Camera Footage Tampering?

By hashing footage and associating the hash with data saved onto the cloud and the police force that it has been recorded by, we can ensure that, even when the original footage is permanently deleted, we will always be able to compare the hash of the original footage with the hash of footage released to the public/used in court. Record adds the hash of the footage to the public state of its Blockchain — making the record immutable and eternally referenceable in the law of court should the footage ever come to question in a future case.

Prohibitive Footage Storage Costs

With more body camera being used by an increasing number of police, the amount of data storage required by departments, albeit temporary data storage for some police forces, will exponentially increase as well.

Easily put, more body cameras = exponentially more data storage = increased expenses to local forces

In fact, local forces are already feeling the pain of increased data storage costs — some shelving the body cameras all together. Laws that are now extending how long forces need to hold on to footage are increasing yearly data storage cost by 1000%.

An example case from Clarksville Kentucky, where the police department’s video storage and camera maintenance costs had been between $5,000 and $10,000 a year under its 30-day video storage policy. But the new law that extending data storage time limits would have raised those costs to $50,000 to $100,000 for the first year [2].

Police departments typically have to buy new servers or pay for a cloud service to store the videos. And additional staffers often need to be hired to handle public records requests, manage videos that must be stored for long durations and redact videos to blur the faces of minors or otherwise protect privacy [2].

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, whose Michigan department covers Detroit’s northern suburbs, said he won’t equip his 900 officers with the cameras largely because his department’s startup costs for the cameras and storing the resulting videos for just 30 days would amount to more than $1 million a year [2].

Basically, data storage costs are inhibiting using body cameras at all — leading to the same non-transparent policing system we found to be so flawed in the first place.

So how can Record decrease data storage costs?

Record allows IP Camera’s to port into its network to connect to the cloud storage solution of their choice. For the most economically viable stacks, Record takes advantages of decentralized cloud storage networks like Storj and Sia, effectively decreasing footage storage costs by half when compared to AWS, and by <10x when compared to using servers on premise. Footage is streamed straight to the cloud storage solution and its location and hash is stored on the Record blockchain, which ports into a publically available DApp that the community can reference — all before anyone gets a chance to edit the footage while providing police forces a scalable solution for storage. The Dapp will be decentrally hosted so that it cannot be taken down.

Establishing and Tracking Entity Reputation

With Record’s blockchain, digital evidence becomes tamper proof in an economically scalable way. The chain of custody of digital evidence also becomes exponentially more secure between parties. As these type of transactions settle on top of the network (uploading digital evidence, transferring ownership of zed evidence, etc.), the network becomes privy to the reputation of participating nodes based on their transactional history. Assigning evolving reputation to law enforcement and even governmental entities go on to do the following:

  • Empower Civil Rights cases against organizations that are under scrutiny, given that there is an immutable proof of how that organization has handled its digital evidence
  • Enable organizations to forecast how trustworthy a potential partner may be before transacting (in the case of local governments, retailers and manufacturers, etc.)

Restoring Integrity with Communities of Color

Overall, stereotyping any community is wrong. All police do not bend the rules within their favor, nor do they take advantage of the power given to them through their public service. The same is true of communities of color — very few of us are criminals, looking to get into mischief and preemptively engage and incite brutal behavior from police. By bridging the transparency gap between these communities in an economically sustainable way, we can forge a new path of enforced accountability, trust, and integrity.

Learn more about Record here. Interested in joining the Record team? Reach out to me @Robtg4 on Twitter on via Linkedin.