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CCTV storage restored after transfer of Freddie Gray, Baltimore unrest footage

Many of Baltimore's closed-circuit television cameras are storing data normally for the first time in more than seven months, after city officials completed a vast transfer of footage from Freddie Gray's arrest and the subsequent unrest.

A legal decision to save the footage from this spring — in case it was needed to investigate Gray's death from injuries suffered in police custody or the rioting, looting and arson that followed — had clogged servers normally used by the city to store footage on a rolling basis. Many cameras had their storage capacity cut from 28 days to 3 days, meaning footage of any illegal activity was wiped clean after 72 hours unless a police officer showed up to flag it as vital to an investigation.

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Police have relied on CCTV footage to make arrests in more than 1,000 cases a year, according to data kept by the city. The CitiWatch system has more than 700 cameras.

Capacity was fully restored on Dec. 18, said Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. "It has been a laborious process," he said.

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The city first acknowledged the problem in June, after being asked about it by The Baltimore Sun.

At the time, city officials said they couldn't immediately transfer the saved footage off the existing system because there was no where to put it. The city subsequently spent $140,000 on new, long term storage servers and nearly $10,000 to pay a contractor to assist in transferring the footage. There was an additional cost in the many hours spent on the transfer by city employees, but that could not be tallied, Libit said.

One reason the transfer took so long was that all of the footage had to be treated as potential evidence — meaning the Baltimore Police Department had to maintain a chain of custody. Police had to be present for the transfer of every terabyte, every frame of footage. After being transferred, all of the footage had to be "watched and rewatched" to make sure that it had been transferred correctly, Libit said.

"There was an abundance of caution to make sure that when this starts getting recorded over, all this critical period of time has been properly transferred off and there were no glitches in the process."

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Libit said he did not know whether the diminished storage capacity on the cameras the last seven months had hindered any police investigations.

The city spends about $1.8 million annually to maintain the camera system, using money from the state and Maryland's casinos. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security helped get the CitiWatch system started in 2005.

The city has released some CCTV video related to the Gray investigation, some of which was used in the trial of Officer William G. Porter this month. Porter's trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges in Gray's death ended in a mistrial, after the 12-member jury failed to reach a consensus on any of the four charges against him. Porter was the first of six Baltimore police officers to go to trial on charges in Gray's arrest and death, and will be retried. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty.

Gray, 25, died April 19, one week after suffering a broken neck and a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van. Jury selection begins in the trial of Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the van's driver, on Jan. 11.

Footage from the CCTV system was also used to bring charges against individuals involved in the rioting and looting that broke out after Gray's funeral on April 27, including in the arson of a CVS pharmacy at Pennsylvania and North avenues.

The city's capacity to store data has been an issue before, and recently came up during discussions about the police department's adoption of body-worn cameras for officers.

Under a pilot camera program that recently concluded, the department utilized cloud storage space provided by the three vendors bidding for a permanent contract to supply the entire department with cameras starting next year.

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