( Tribune News Service/John J. Kim )

Just two years after spending more than half a million dollars to outfit its police officers with body cameras, Santa Rosa has approved $1 million for an upgrade.

The VieVu cameras that its 120 officers currently use are already obsolete, and the local storage system is frustratingly slow and inefficient, officials told the City Council this week.

The department asked to switch to cameras made by a competitor, Axon Enterprise Inc., and subscribe to the company’s cloud-based storage service for five years. (Axon was formerly Taser International, and its flagship product is electroshock weapons.) 

The cameras and storage contract will cost $215,000 in the first year, and an additional $200,000 per year after that for a total contract value of just over $1 million. The contract comes with a guaranteed upgrade in 2 1/2 years to state-of-the-art cameras. The City Council approved the contract with little comment.

The VieVu cameras, some of which went into service in early 2016, cost about $140,000. The video storage software costs an additional $94,000. Both will be phased out.

In all, the original program cost $536,000 to launch. The most expensive part was a digital evidence storage system that is still effective and expected to be used for years to come, Chief Hank Schreeder said.

When the city selected VieVu in 2015, the department said it liked the simple operation of the cameras and the security of storing their data on a local server. That required the data to be downloaded and transferred into the city’s own digital evidence storage system, a process that took officers up to an hour at the end of their shifts, said Keith Hinton, the department’s technical services division manager.

Using the system created “frustration, confusion and an inefficient use of staff time,” Hinton wrote in his report to the council.

At the same time, VieVu and other providers switched away from supporting local storage solutions to using proprietary cloud-based services, Hinton said.

“It was a rapid evolution,” Schreeder said of the technology shift.

That left the city unable to upgrade to VieVu’s next-generation camera model because the newer models don’t work with the city’s storage software.

The new Axon cameras are easy to use and have faster transfer speeds and longer battery life. They can be integrated with the city’s computer-aided dispatch system, Hinton said. Video can be previewed by officers on a cellphone, leaving the more time-consuming downloading process to take place after their shifts are complete, he explained.

The new system will take an average of 15 minutes instead of an hour, Hinton said.

According to Axon, its police body cameras are being used in California's biggest municipal police departments -- Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. 

 ©2017 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.