The Head Count
How a school district’s police department securely shares digital evidence in minutes
- By Andrew Elvish
- Jun 01, 2018
Putnam City Schools is the fifth largest school district
in Oklahoma. The district serves more than 20,000
students and employees 2,500 staff in three cities:
Bethany, Warr Acres and northwest Oklahoma City.
More than 30 schools provide education ranging from
pre-kindergarten to grade 12, as well as alternative and special education
While students focus on learning, Putnam City Schools Police Department
works hard to keep everyone safe. Officers monitor schools
24/7 and also spend a lot of time conducting investigations and compiling
digital evidence for cases. Often, this involves working closely
with local agencies to help keep their communities safe.
Managing Video Evidence the Old Way
Putnam City Schools PD handles criminal cases, internal investigations
and local police requests. This means they’re always searching
for video evidence. In the past, finding and sharing that evidence was
time-consuming and inconvenient.
The chief or assistant chief of police would locate the archived
video from a database folder, reformat it, and save it on a USB stick.
For safe-keeping, they put the stick in an envelope and stapled it to
the case report. Then, they would hand-deliver the package to recipients.
The risks were always a concern—the copy could get lost or end
up in the wrong hands.
Upgrading to a Digital Evidence
Today, Putnam City Schools is changing how its community shares
information. The police department upgraded to Genetec Clearance,
a digital evidence management system. The fact that the cloud-based
solution is compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy
Act (FERPA) was a big selling point. This means that the system
meets government cybersecurity standards, so video and other digital
evidence is always protected. For officers, sharing evidence with
the district attorney’s office, principals or police is easier and faster.
Without leaving their desk, they email recipients a secure link to the case file and video. The whole process is now
simple and worry-free.
Sharing the Evidence
Since implementing Genetec Clearance, Putnam
City Schools Police Department is handling
more cases in less time.
“We used to spend a lot of time burning
copies of evidence and delivering them to the
district attorney’s office or to whoever needed
it,” said Mark Stout, chief of police at the
schools. “We didn’t realize how out-of-date
that process was until we started using Genetec
Clearance. Now, we’re able to process those
cases faster and move on to other tasks.”
Once an investigation begins, the chief
or the assistant chief opens a new case and
imports digital evidence into Clearance from
the Security Center platform. They use a
map to tag the school’s name and address
and add keywords to describe the type of
case such as assault, theft or disciplinary. It’s
an easy way for them to find evidence later.
They can also attach PDF reports and add
notes about the case.
Sharing video is even simpler. Whether
it’s the district attorney, a school principal
or the human resources director, district officers
can add recipients to a case and provide
each person with specific viewing or editing
privileges. Each recipient then receives an
email with access to the case and the associated
digital evidence files. There’s no need for
Putnam City Schools PD to convert video
formats either—the system does that automatically.
Every time the video is viewed or
a case is accessed, the activity is logged. With
this level of auditing, chain of custody is
Keeping Student Privacy
Top of Mind
Protecting student privacy is critical to the
district. It’s why the district PD is thrilled to
see the highest cybersecurity measures built
into Clearance. If necessary, they can also
use video redaction to blur minors’ faces and
omit them from the evidence.
“Whenever something happens, the first
thing people want to know is: ‘Was there
video?’ And when we’re dealing with children,
we must be extremely diligent about
protecting their privacy,” Stout said. “That’s
why when we found out that Clearance was
FERPA-compliant, we were sold. Now, we
can quickly send video evidence to anyone
who needs to view it, in a secure manner.”
Worries about lost disks or drives are
long gone. Whether the information is
shared with principals, human resource directors
or district attorney offices, there are
no more physical copies lying around which
can be lost or stolen. The police department
has extra peace of mind knowing only those
with privileges can view the files.
Helping Local Police
Close Cases Faster
It’s not just the school police department that
is impressed with the efficiency of the system.
Local police agencies have also praised
the speedy and secure delivery of video files.
In one case, Chief Stout sent video to a lieutenant
from the city of Oklahoma police department.
The lieutenant was investigating a
complaint concerning a local police officer
after an altercation outside a school.
“The lieutenant called me back immediately
and said, ‘Just what kind of system do
you guys have?’” Stout said. “He thought I
would have to burn the video on a DVD and
he was ready to send someone over to pick
it up. That could have taken the whole day,
but instead, he had the evidence he needed
in 30 minutes.”
During a big case, the Bethany Police Department
contacted Stout while investigating
a series of robberies at a chain of fast food
restaurants. The investigator was looking
for video of the most recent robbery that occurred
at a restaurant adjacent to a school.
Sure enough, Stout quickly found video
of the suspect driving by the school, parking
and then getting out of his car before putting
on a mask. The local officer insisted on coming
to pick up the video, but Stout assured
him that he would receive an email within
minutes with the evidence.
“He was so impressed with how quickly
we were able to send him that video,” Stout
said. “Working with the Oklahoma City police
department, they were able to identify
the suspect from the vehicle in the video and
make an arrest that night.”
Leading the Way to Digital
In the school district, any video evidence
whether for criminal charges or disciplinary
cases must be kept five years after the student’s
high school graduation. So, if a student
is in sixth grade, video evidence must
remain on their file for 11 years. As the police
department processes more cases, storage
costs add up. Instead of investing in more
servers, there’s a possibility for the school
to save all video archives in the cloud. This
would help the district cut down on longterm
archiving costs while still keeping evidence
accessible and secure.
With this initial success, the plan is to
keep processing more cases using the digital
evidence management system.
“This software helps us save time and alleviates
the headaches of preparing and delivering
files. Plus, everything is going digital
now,” Stout said. “I think it’s just a matter of
time before all case reports and evidence will
be shared digitally between city agencies. As
a forward-thinking district, we’re happy to
be leading the movement
to faster, more secure information
sharing in our
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Security Today.