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Guidelines For Saving Security Camera Tapes
Answers by Barbara Hurst, Barry Thompson and Dana Turner

QUESTION: How long should we keep our security camera tapes before we reuse them? We normally recycle the tapes after 30 days but recently we had a request from the police for tapes of over six months ago. Are there any guidelines or what do you recommend?

ANSWER by Barbara Hurst
Law enforcement would like you to keep them forever! And believe it or not, there are some financial institutions that do just that. I've discovered the standard used to be about three months, but more and more financial institutions are shifting to the recommended six months. The problem is not how long you hold them, but how often you reuse them. If you recycle the tapes more than three times it starts to give less than quality pictures. We've heard of tapes used as many as 20 or 30 times! You may as well not bother to put them in the recorder by that time. You can't identify anyone in the frame. Try not to use them more than three times - hold them for at least six months (longer if possible).

ANSWER by Barry Thompson
A few years ago problem Treasury Checks wouldn't be returned to the financial institution for at least one year. At that time my CCTV library held approximately 14 months in back history. In recent times, I found that six months of history was more than adequate. This is a judgement call based on your past experience. Occasionally something will happen that you can't expect. I once had a kidnap case where the accused had made a bank transaction during the time he was supposed to be elsewhere. The police wanted our video; the only problem was we found out about the transaction six months too late.

ANSWER by Dana Turner
You have maintenance and quality and both legal systems' issues to consider. The maintenance and quality issues have to do with your videocamera and videotape. The legal issues have to do with your state's civil and criminal codes, and the term "statute of limitations".

You should only use the videotape a maximum of three (3) times because the quality of the image becomes so degraded as to be virtually useless for identification purposes.

States often have different statutes of limitations for the same offense -- so be certain to find out about your state's rules. The term "statute of limitation" refers to the maximum amount of time in which a matter may be brought to trial. Infractions and misdemeanors are generally prosecutable for up to one (1) year of their commission. Most felonies are prosecutable for up to three (3) years from the date of their commission. To err on the side of caution, keep your tapes for five (5) years.

First published on 3/5/01

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