Body Worn Cameras; More Safe than Dash Cam for Police

December 9th, 2014

body worn camera policeAfter the controversial grand jury announcement in the case of Michael Brown, President Obama has proposed the idea of issuing police departments across the nation with body-worn cameras for law enforcement. Between Michael Brown, and the controversy behind the Eric Garner case, citizens are asking: Will body-worn cameras help police as well as the public? In this video forensic expert’s opinion, the answer to that question is a resounding YES!

Video is the least challenged of all digital media forensic evidence. It provides a clear indication of the events as they occurred by allowing the judge and jury to observe the event with their own eyes. Nothing is as revealing as video to clearly show the court exactly what happened.

Had Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the Michael Brown shooting, worn a body-worn camera, the case might have had a different outcome. The ability for the jury to see something first person can be invaluable to their decision.

Here’s an example: In the video embedded below, courtesy of ABC News, we see two pieces of evidence: footage of a confrontation taken from the dash-cam, along with evidence taken from the body worn camera. As the first half of the video shows, the police officer in question tackles the suspect for seemingly no reason. The body-cam, however, tells a completely different story.

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What the white Kia in the driveway blocks is the event that takes place at 1:53 of the video, whereas the suspect openly tries to assault the police officer in question. In this instance, had a body worn camera not been issued, the jury may have interpreted this in a completely different way.

Last year, Primeau Forensics had the opportunity to test and review one of these body worn cameras, the VieVu LE2. These cameras would be phenomenal for police forces all over the U.S. It’s 72-degree wide angle lens allows for a wider first person perspective, so that even a suspect standing at a distance from the officer is still being recorded. The near-professional quality of the audio and video ensure a clear understanding of the situation, and the digital signature security ensures that the video footage cannot be tampered with while on the device.

Body-worn cameras could completely revolutionize the court system and how it interprets evidence. Video like this can be instrumental to the outcome of a case, as it provides the most realistic representation of what exactly transpired in a given confrontation. As shown above, not even a dash-cam can always show us everything, but having a first person perspective of a given confrontation is pivotal to the jury’s final decision.

For more info on body-worn cameras, check out CEO Ed Primeau’s interview with VIEVU CEO Steve Ward here!

Police Misconduct and Mobile Video – DeShawn Currie

October 10th, 2014

police misconductLast night, ABC News ran a story about a young foster child who was pepper-sprayed in his own home. The boy, DeShawn Currie, was mistaken for a burglar reported by neighbors, and was pepper-sprayed at the front door of his home in North Carolina.

Stories like this really emphasize how powerful the consumer video revolution really is. Police misconduct of this kind may have gone completely unnoticed without the advancement of video that has taken place over the past decade. Video is the most powerful evidence in situations like these, and we need to remain aware of the power that video as evidence has in the world today. Without the advancement of the smartphone camera, dash-cams, body worn cameras such as the GoPro, along with advancements in CCTV technology, this absurd behavior from police may have gone completely undocumented. Now that we have all of this technology at our fingertips, we have a much higher chance of exposing misconduct of this degree.

To read more about the consumer video revolution and it’s effects on the courtroom, click here.

Watch the full story from ABC News below.

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How to Become a Forensic Expert

September 29th, 2014

Audio Forensic LabI recently created a podcast series on iTunes called BlindSpot. I created it for people who are interested in knowing more about becoming a forensic expert. The name BlindSpot comes from the concept that forensic experts see and hear what other people cannot. Forensic experts in various fields reveal the ‘blind spot’ by identifying and acquiring evidence using their experience and expertise as forensic scientists.

In this blog post I want to discuss an overview of what it takes to become an expert witness.  How do you transition your career into a forensic expert? What do you have to do to become a forensic expert in your industry? What do you do once you believe you have completed the necessary steps in order to be successful, especially in the courtroom?

Being a forensic expert requires the scientific expertise necessary to investigate a piece of evidence being used in court. Forensic accountants know how to use software programs as well as their learned skills to help them solve accounting mysteries. They are also very good at math and problem solving. Forensic accountants are brought in when people suspect fraud and embezzlement, both personally and professionally. They can go back in ledgers and bank statements to determine the ‘who and how’ about the missing moolah.  How did 20 million dollars in cash vanish from a business? Where did the tax dollars go from the city treasury?

Many Fields of Forensic Experts

A forensic accountant has the talent, skill and ability to solve these mysteries. But where did their talent come from? I believe we are all born with a gifted talent that lifts us up above the average person. Much of a forensic expert’s training is in the classroom.  I believe the best forensic experts not only perfect their expertise in training but they are also born with their expertise.

Computer forensic experts investigate computer systems to help solve mysteries about deleted files and operating system behavior. They look for deleted files and other computer trails in the operating history.  There is often an electronic trail left behind in a computer when a file has been deleted. Computer forensic experts are called in when police confiscate computer equipment after a crime was committed. They look for clues to help the police convict or acquit the arrested. Computer forensic experts also get involved with forensic accountants to help solve financial crimes because much of today’s accounting is done on computers.

Computer forensic experts also understand modified, accessed and created meta data that helps litigators understand the truth about an evidence file. Knowing this forensic information helps the authorities understand a suspect’s behavior and intent surrounding a crime or alleged crime.

Civil Engineers help accident reconstruction forensic experts with recreating an accident scene. Using video and or animation, these forensic experts bring the accident scene into the court room very scientifically and accurately depicting the faults involved so that the judge and jury better understand the accident scene and events that occurred leading up to the accident.

Medical experts help litigators understand medical procedures and how medical methodology should be followed. They explain in reports and testimony how a medical accident occurred and how it could have been avoided. They also explain to the judge and jury what went wrong or what was right about a malpractice procedure in question.

So where do you begin your process with becoming a forensic expert?

Look at your resume. If you don’t have a resume, make one. If you don’t know how to make a resume, find somebody that does and ask for help. Your resume is the starting point for your forensic career. This document will eventually become your forensic expert curriculum vitae, CV, which is Latin for resume.

If you have graduated college, look around for some continuing education training in your field of expertise. This training can be a certificate course taught by another established forensic expert or forensic association. You can also start by designing problem solving experiments. Science is observation and the more experience you have observing science as a forensic expert, the better.

Join some associations and attend their meetings. This is a great way to learn more about your field of expertise, as well as meet people who will eventually become your peers. You can learn a lot by networking with your peers. Casual dinner conversation usually includes previous case stories that communicate experience. Once you get to know your peers, you can ask one that you have connected with to mentor you as you begin your transition into becoming a forensic expert.

I have started a mentor program and work with aspiring audio video forensic experts around the world.

Testifying and Non Testifying Forensic Experts

Not all forensic experts decide to become expert witnesses and appear in court. There are many qualified experts in hundreds of fields who choose to avoid the stress of testifying and focus only on their scientific forensic work. Testifying in court is incredibly challenging and requires a lot of preparation to withstand the pressure and the stress of the courtroom – and yes, there is stress.

Personally, I’ve found there are two aspects to my career as an audio and video forensic expert. The first is my actual audio and video forensic skills; the lab work and reports I write leading up to testifying in court. This includes audio and video enhancement, authentication and voice identification. There are hundreds of forensic fields which need more experts because of growth and expansion.

The second aspect to my career is testifying.  This skill almost outweighs my expert experience in the laboratory as far as importance, in my mind. This requires you to not only know your field of expertise, but to also know how to speak about your work and act in the courtroom. I’ve worked on and testified in hundreds of forensic assignments and court cases over the last thirty years, which has helped me build my reputation and credibility as an expert witness.

There are many things that a forensic expert should keep in mind when they’re planning on testifying in court.

First, think about working closely with your client attorney and make sure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to trial. I’ve had a lot of lawyers over the years procrastinate on that pre-trial ‘huddle’ I like to call it, or conference, so that you understand what is expected of you. You can then anticipate what the prosecution or the opposing counsel may ask you during cross examination, which is one of the most important aspects to trial preparation – anticipate the cross examination.

Of course you’re going to dress like a pro. Dressing and acting accordingly while in court is crucial to determine an expert’s integrity in any case, especially in the eyes of the jury. I remember working a case once, in Lower Manhattan Federal Court, and the experts were sequestered, which means we all had to wait in the hallway and we couldn’t hear previous testimony or any other details about the case. After a few hours everyone broke for lunch and I remember talking to my attorney – which, this was the first time we had met – and she told me that there was a psychologist on the stand. Just at that very moment the woman who was the psychologist left the courtroom, looking a little flustered and she had this amazing cloud of perfume following her (and I’m using the word ‘cloud’ to be polite!). So, another hour or so after lunch and it was my turn to go into court and testify. When I sat at the witness stand all I could smell in the courtroom was that perfume. I have to be honest with you, it kind of annoyed me a bit, and if I was annoyed I suspect that there were a few people on the jury that were probably annoyed, and they had to sit with that woman a lot longer than I had to deal with that cloud that had lingered behind her in the witness stand.

So, dressing is not just the clothes that you wear. It is your hair, your perfume or cologne; it is your overall appearance. And I’ve been told – and I’m only saying this to express and not impress – that I’m pretty good in front of a jury and I’d like to think it’s because I maintain a conservative look, I know how to talk and I know how to make eye contact. These are all important ingredients when you’re in court testifying. But I’m digressing a little bit. I guess that I am passionate about testifying, which is why I’m starting here in this post.

Transition your Career from Professional to Forensic Expert

How do you transition your career into an expert witness? By writing your curriculum vitae (CV), completing forensic assignments, writing reports, courtroom experience, and understanding what it means to be under oath.

Regardless of whether or not you’re going to be a scientist and stick to the lab or an expert witness and do both lab work and testifying, you really need to know how to complete a forensic assignment. So if you’re thinking about a career as an expert witness, consider your training and continuing your education. This is the starting point for transitioning your profession into becoming a forensic expert. It is really important continue your education throughout the course of your forensic expert career. That includes both online and in classroom training. Doing so will help you stay current with your steps that you’re taking in regard to forensic assignments and the processes that you’re undergoing when you’re conducting your forensic analyses. That will turn into a forensic report, which is also your script when testifying.

Next, when becoming a forensic expert that testifies, it is very important to gain courtroom experience. Of course when you first start your forensic career you probably don’t have court experience, and if you do, well, you’re ahead of the game. That first time that you step foot into the courtroom and the first time that you testify will help to increase your confidence so that you continue to have an opportunity to practice as an expert witness and get more experience in the courtroom. You will keep track of your experience in the courtroom and you will add this to your curriculum vitae.

Your CV is a work in progress. Add your deposition and your courtroom experience to your curriculum vitae as the assignments are completed. This helps to increase your integrity, as well as your experience, and your perceived value to your prospects.

What does it mean to be under oath? When you walk into the courtroom and you raise your right hand and you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God, that means you can go to prison if you’re caught lying.

Expert witnesses need to run from being perceived or even thinking about being a ‘hired gun’. You don’t want to think about the money and the financial gain to the work that you’re going to do. Rather, you should want to be a scientist and stick to the facts and what you can solemnly swear to be the truth when you raise that right hand. Perjury is nothing you want to get involved in. That is kind of the scary aspect to what I think keeps scientists out of the courtroom. And like I said earlier, you can certainly be a forensic expert without being an expert witness.

Preparation for trial is extremely important. The biggest problem I have with preparing for trial is getting the attorney that I’m working for or with to understand the importance of preparing for trial. Often I have to tackle the attorney by demanding a call with them prior to getting on an airplane or going to the courthouse – I happen to testify more out of state than I do in-state – and I have to have a call with them before I show up wherever I’m going to testify. Sometimes that is at nine or ten at night before I get on the airplane. That is fine, as long as we exchange what their expectations are, what my beliefs about the case are and we get a little bit of a strategy going so that I can write some questions to help them in court. I like to create some questions that are based on my experience and my expertise for the attorney to utilize like a script. Then, they can ask me direct examination questions while I am on the stand.

Preparation also involves anticipating cross examination questions. Those are questions that should be written and presented to your client attorney. Those cross-examination questions can be turned into direct examination questions. That way, you can ‘deflate’ the opposing side or the prosecutor’s questions before they even have an opportunity to ask. A lot of times, those anticipated cross examination questions are the elephant in the room that you can get out now instead of ‘Well, we’ll wing it and see what happens,’ which is exactly what you don’t want to do.

How do you dress and act when you go into a courtroom? You have to be very conservative. Tattoos and piercings, facial hair and dyed hair (pink, purple) are not good ideas if you are thinking about a career as an expert witness. You should wear a tie if you’re a man; both men and women should wear suits. Men could wear a sport coat and slacks and they should always have dress shoes on. Either way your clothes should look recently purchased. Remember, you’re making good money as an expert witness – break down every couple of years and rotate your wardrobe. Don’t keep trying to wear those shirts that don’t fit any more and have the buttons stretched to the point where one could pop and take out somebody’s eye in the courtroom.

I’ve seen a lot of people walk into court that call themselves expert witnesses and have improper packaging. You really need to look impressive when you walk into that room. I’m not talking flashy, I’m talking attractive and put together so that the jury can perceive you as being a person of integrity.

When you’re on the stand and looking sharp, you want to pay careful attention to the questions that you’re being asked and you want to answer those questions in short sentences. Even if you have to answer a difficult question during cross examination, don’t ramble trying to accommodate or correct a wrong that is completely out of your control. Answer those questions direct and in short sentences. The attorney who is asking the questions, or the prosecutor, will probe if they want more information. Don’t offer more information randomly; just answer the question that has been asked.

There are two aspects to your examination. The first is direct and I’ve touched on that a little bit previously. This is where the defense attorney that you’ve been retained by will begin by asking you questions that will help reveal your work and the scientific observations that you have made. Then there is the cross examination. That is where the opposing side, the prosecution in a criminal case, asks you questions to try to derail your train of thought when it comes to your opinions. They’re going to use trick questions to try to make you not look good as an expert witness. This is where you really need to stay cool, because their job is to try to reduce your perceived value or integrity in the eyes of the jury (or the judge, if it’s a bench trial). You need to stay calm and cool and think about how you’re going to answer those questions and if you’re not sure you can always ask them to repeat the question. This gives you a few more seconds to think about how you want to answer the question that they just asked.

So what does it take to be an expert witness? It takes a well written CV that explains your experience and expertise and good report writing. It takes good forensic science and experience, which comes from training. It takes good courtroom experience and careful preparation for trial and testifying. You want to know how to dress, you want to pay attention to the questions and answer them in short sentences and you want to think about your examination experience as a two part process. The first is direct examination and the second is cross examination.

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The Evolution of Mobile Video and What It Could Mean for Video Forensics

September 4th, 2014

mobile video forensicsOver the past few years, we’ve seen a significant acceleration in the development and manufacture of consumer-grade, mobile video devices. From smartphones to GoPros, video recording has become substantially less expensive and far more accessible to consumers, and this may change the game regarding digital evidence.

This consumer video revolution now allows us to capture video of events as they occur. This phenomenon has created powerful repercussions in the courtroom. Thanks to the easy availability of video devices and trends in social media, we now have presented at trial video evidence of events that, until recently, have rarely been made known.

For example, take this video of a woman from Mississippi. As she begins to merge onto the highway, a truck hits her car, causing the car to catch fire. She seems trapped in the car (either physically, or due to shock), and with her children in the back and the flames coming ever closer to the gas tank, she needs to act quickly.

Suddenly, from behind the scene of the accident, another truck driver leaves his rig and tries to save the family by pulling them out of the burning car. Minutes after they are successfully rescued, the car explodes. Had the truck driver been a few minutes later, it is likely that the entire family would have been killed.

This is a heroic, inspiring story. An inspiring story that would have gone completely unnoticed if weren’t for the rescuer’s dash cam recording the entire incident. A heroic act so great that it has rarely been seen outside of movies and television, it became a huge story, and something that would have been unrecognized by the public without the technology of this generation.

However, the documentation of heroic stories like this is only the beginning of the positive effects from the spread of video devices to every pocket, purse, and vehicle. This public video revolution can also make or break a court case, providing the crucial evidence that makes true justice possible.

For this, let’s use the currently infamous video, “Officer Go-F***-Yourself.” The officer in Ferguson appeared at a peaceful protest late one night in August. He approached a group of young adult protesters with an assault weapon drawn, pointed it at them, and he told them that if they did not return to their homes, he would “f***ing kill” them.

In the world of law enforcement, this kind of behavior on the part of an officer is absolutely improper and illegal. The protest was peaceful; the young adults weren’t causing any harm or exhibiting disorderly behavior. Hell, even if they were, threatening protesters in such a crude manor is clearly unacceptable in a free society.

Had this happened 10 years ago, it might have gone completely unnoticed. The officer in question may have gotten away with blatantly making death threats to civilians, and the only evidence from the protesters would’ve turned into a game of “he said, she said.” However, because one of the protesters was smart enough to take out their cell phone and document the entire confrontation, justice was done and the officer was suspended from the force. The police in Ferguson were able to see the events exactly as they transpired, so it was indisputable that he was guilty. This, in itself, is revolutionary, and is an indication of how much power video evidence can have in the courtroom.

The fact stands that a clear representation, such as video, is the most indisputable evidence there is, and allowing the jury, officials and lawyers to witness the event with their own eyes and ears is the most effective way to present evidence. Other forms of evidence can be easily disputed, but allowing the court to see, hear, and experience the event for themselves is the most effective method of presenting evidence, even more reliable than an eyewitness account.

Think about it this way. Consider the most powerful documentaries you’ve ever seen. What do they all have in common? Generally, they all rely on the reality of the situation by allowing viewers to experience it for themselves. You can throw out as many facts and statistics as you want, but seeing, hearing, and experiencing actual issues, people, circumstances, and actions is what will stick with people most. The feeling viewers derive from seeing the faces and hearing the people speak is incomparable to any statistic in the world. This is why Charlie LeDuff’s piece on Ferguson is one of the most powerful, yet. It doesn’t focus on the narrative; it doesn’t focus on stats; it focuses on the people. It focuses on those who are so passionate about this cause that they would fight, risk arrest, or even die for it.

The consumer video device revolution is so important to the justice system, and the best way to reap its benefits is to remain aware of its power. If you experience anything unlawful, always remember that the little rectangle sitting in your pocket could make or break the fate of those guilty. These devices allow us to capture indisputable evidence about what truly took place, and this is a privilege we can’t ignore. If these developments continue, they could completely change the face of digital forensic evidence forever.

Surveillance: Safe or Scared?

August 13th, 2014

surveillance CCTVIn the last few years, there has been a large push for more video surveillance. With smartphone capabilities and many traffic and business cameras already in place, we’re not far from what many politicians are proposing. With so many cameras out there it’s already difficult to be sure you’re not on camera at any given time. The big question has become is this a good or a bad thing? The Boston Marathon bombing that occurred last year became a prime example of the benefits of surveillance systems. After being caught on a CCTV, officials were able to identify the bombers and begin their search.

When the issue is looked at from that perspective, increased surveillance seems very beneficial to law enforcement and the overall safety of the public. If police had access to a wide network of cameras catching and convicting criminals could practically become streamlined. So why not put a camera on every corner? The United Kingdom already has somewhere between 4 and 6 million CCTV cameras installed according to data collected last year. That means there is roughly one camera for every eleven people in the UK. While the safety applications seem numerous, privacy becomes a big concern for many people.

Many civil liberty groups such as the ACLU are very against the installation of major CCTV networks. Their biggest argument is that many studies, mainly conducted in the UK, have shown that the installation of surveillance cameras has not cut down crime rates by a significant amount. Other studies have shown that they are only effective in certain areas, such as parking lots and public transportation, while other public areas have experienced very little to no change due to surveillance. People are also concerned about the cost of installing so many cameras. Installing just a few cameras can cost around $1000 or more depending on the quality of the cameras. If these security networks are only having a small effect on crime in certain areas, is it worth it to install so many networks?

Though the preventive nature of surveillance systems still seems to be inconclusive, the aid it gives to investigations and catching criminals is definite. Not only has it helped with identifying the Boston bombers but it has been useful in many other cases as well. Recently in India, a tutor was caught beating her 3-year old student on a CCTV network that was installed in the home. Because of the camera, the mother caught the tutor in the act and intervened before the tutor could harm the child more. It’s hard to say that surveillance cameras are not worth it when events like this come to light. At this point the question becomes what are people more concerned about. Is privacy more important or are we willing to give up some of that freedom in an attempt to increase safety in public places?

5 Tips for Preparing Digital Video Evidence for Court

June 10th, 2014

evidence - courtOver the last 30 years, I have worked on video forensic cases around the world as a video forensic expert. This blog post is about the top five things I have learned and want to share with you about preparing your video evidence for use in court regardless of where you are located.

Number one is the most important. Document and maintain a chain of custody on your video evidence.  When there is no chain of custody maintained on video evidence it is hard for all parties in any litigation to understand the purpose of the video evidence as well as the genuineness and authenticity. Lack of a proper chain of custody reduces the credibility of your video evidence.

Number two: Always present the original digital video recording, not a copy. If you are not sure you have the original or if you believe the copy you have has been altered, seek the help and guidance of a video forensic expert. A video forensic expert can authenticate the digital video recording and present a report of their scientific findings.  

Number three: Make sure your video is compatible for easy playback in court. Many of our clients at Primeau Forensics (hot link) will give us a digital video recording to authenticate that was created on a closed circuit television surveillance system. Attorneys will enter a court room with a video requiring a proprietary player that will not open quickly, keeping the judge and jury waiting for their evidence to be presented. As a rule of thumb, always rehearse playing your video evidence before you enter the court room. 

Number four: Will the jury be able to hear the audio?  Do you need a PA speaker and amplifier to make the audio louder for everyone in court to hear? It is common when I testify that I bring in a suitcase or two of equipment to make sure all video is played back properly and easily heard by all persons in the court room. 

Number five: Do you have copies of your video for everyone? Remember, you have to allow the court to put an exhibit sticker on your digital video evidence. DVD copies are a must. Thumb drives are a bit harder to put evidence stickers on. Thumb drives are being used more and more in court as the volume of size is increasing with video evidence. When DVDs are not large enough to store the video evidence, place the thumb drive in a small plastic zip lock bag. This allows room for evidence stickers.

There are many other factors to consider when using your video evidence in litigation; these are the top five in my opinion.  Ask a video forensic expert – Call or email with any questions you have regarding your video evidence for court. 

A Video Forensic Expert Looks at the VIEVU Wearable Camera

April 25th, 2014

Vievu LE2By Ed Primeau

Giving the VIEVU LE2 my highest recommendation is easy. It is, without a doubt, the best wearable personal surveillance camera I have encountered in 25+ years as a video forensics investigator. Developed by police for police, this unit just gets it all right: size, shape, weight, operation, picture quality, sound quality, date & time stamp, capacity, convenient downloading, storage, management, and digital signature security.

Most important of all is getting a video recording of what is said and done at a traffic stop, pedestrian stop, crime scene, or call for assistance. A video that captures the point of view of the officer is invaluable as a record of all an officer’s activities. It protects officers as well as citizens, holds all parties accountable, and can be introduced as an evidentiary recording in a court of law. Put simply, having some kind of recording is always better than having no recording at all. And clearly, I would choose the VIEVU over a fixed vehicle cam or handheld camcorder every time. Unobtrusive, reliable, and easy to operate, I look forward to the time when every police officer in the country wears a VIEVU whenever on duty.

Testifying as an expert witness, I’m most often challenged by the opposition attorneys in two areas: authenticity/chain of custody, and findings. Years of experience help me stay confident about my analysis of and findings from the evidentiary video recording. Issues arising from authenticity and chain of custody can be more challenging. Frequently, I am not the person who retrieves the recording. That means that I must rely upon the record keeping of others to establish an unbroken chain of custody, a paper/digital trail that accounts for every individual who had the recording in his or her possession up until I receive it and thereafter. Any break in the chain, and the evidence can be challenged. VIEVU solves this problem with its VERIPATROL VidLock Security Suite. The software utilizes a FIPS 140-2 (Federal Information Processing Standard) compliant Digital Signature, which guarantees the recording’s authenticity and integrity. This cryptographic standard ensures the authorship of the recording and that it has not been tampered with or edited in any way.

The LE2 records at 640 x 480, standard definition, but with an important difference. Under forensic examination, most standard definition video is actually 640 x 240, because each frame of video is made up of two fields. With standard, interlaced scanning, the odd vertical lines are recorded before the even lines, which produces a visible lag when viewing the full frame. The LE2 employs progressive scanning, where all 480 lines are recorded simultaneously, producing superior vertical resolution. 30 ips (Images Per Second) is always preferable to 30 fps (Frames Per Second). This makes my job easier when performing forensic video analysis. Digital footage captured at 640 x 480p strikes a good balance between file size and resolution. Since most conversations occur at a distance of six feet or less, officers wearing a VIEVU record an ideal, detailed field of view, thanks to the unit’s well chosen, 71°, wide-angle lens.

From a personal perspective, I use the LE2 myself to document evidence retrieval in the field. The camera works perfectly, providing a time stamped video record of the DVR I’m working on and its location. And I’m looking forward to receiving the company’s newest upgrade, the Hi-Def LE3.

For more info on VIEVU and their products, check out CEO Ed Primeau’s interview with VIEVU CEO Steve Ward here!

Evidence Recovery

April 14th, 2014

Evidence Retrieval As an audio/video forensic expert I have witnessed a huge growth in digital video recordings admitted into evidence in court over the last several years. Much of the work I do on these recordings is video enhancement which allows the Trier of Fact a better opportunity to view the events as they occurred. Sometimes this digital video evidence was recorded in video surveillance systems, other times it is from smart-phones.  Video surveillance recordings that I enhance are removed from both mobile surveillance systems and stationary surveillance systems.

Stationary surveillance systems record digital video at stationary locations like convenience stores, banks and other businesses or institutions. Mobile surveillance systems are being used more and more in busses, trains and other types of public transportation.

Many people involved in litigation who retain audio and video forensic experts like me do not realize how important professional evidence retrieval is.

There are three main factors I would like to mention regarding the reason for professional evidence recovery. First, when I retrieve evidence personally, I record a video of the process using a VIEVU body worn camera, which establishes an indisputable chain of custody. Second, I take special precautions during the retrieval process to make sure I leave with at least one version of the recording and leave with the evidence for future forensic enhancement and authentication.

I retrieve the recording so as to minimize any degradation of quality. When a multi-million dollar lawsuit may turn on the analysis of a surveillance video, it is imprudent to entrust evidence retrieval to an untrained security guard or police officer.

Third, I research the operator’s manual and connect with tech support from the surveillance company before I travel to the location of the surveillance equipment and make the evidence recovery. While I am on site I can also examine the administrative log and determine additional forensic information for the chain of custody.

I want to mention an excellent manual for retrieval of electronic evidence developed jointly by the federal government’s interagency Technical Support Working Group, the FBI Forensic Audio, Video, and Image Analysis Unit, and law enforcement agencies from around the world. Entitled Best Practices for the Retrieval of Video Evidence from Digital CCTV Systems, it contains an authoritative (if somewhat dated) overview of the topic, and covers many of the protocols we have adopted at Primeau Forensics.

Before digital audio and video recorders, retrieving a tape-based analogue recording was fairly straightforward. Recordings were made to tape cassettes, which were stored in climate-controlled conditions. Evidence retrieval was as simple as picking up the original cassette recording. Digital video recorders (DVRs), however, do not record to easily portable cassettes. Rather, they record to the kind of hard disk drives found in computers. These internal hard drives are not portable, making evidence retrieval more difficult. Whether I take the DVR or its internal drive with me or make a lossless copy of its contents, I always follow antistatic procedures and carry all media in specially shielded cases.

All surveillance and standard digital video is recorded using a specific compression/decompression scheme or codec. The compressed file is stored within a wrapper, a file structure, which determines its format. It is not uncommon for surveillance DVRs to use proprietary formats, allowing playback only through the original recording DVR. Some DVRs can recompress the original proprietary format file, transcoding it into a non-proprietary format for easy playback. However, these more accessible files often contain lower quality video and audio. When I retrieve these digital video files, I study the DVR’s operating manual to find the best way to make a high quality copy that retains all data and metadata. By minimizing or eliminating the degradation that can accompany translating the file from one format to another, I ensure that my lab analysis is based on the best video recording available.

Mobile Surveillance Video Evidence Recovery – Hard Drive Cloning

March 26th, 2014

hard drive cloningMobile Video Evidence Recovery: Simple as Cloning the DVR’s Hard Drive?

With the rapid proliferation of surveillance cameras in public and private spaces, law enforcement agencies are increasingly making use of these recordings as evidentiary video at trial. Moreover, mobile digital video recorders and other portable video recording technologies are making it much more practical to capture surveillance/crime scene video that may latter be used as evidence in court. Playback of these video recordings is straightforward, providing the video is played back using the original equipment on which it was recorded.

This caveat, unbeknownst to many attorneys and police officers,stems from a simple fact.Most fixed and mobile DVR-based surveillance systems employ proprietary computer operating systems and record digital video to proprietary formats. Under these circumstances, causing minimal degradation of picture quality during the process of recovering and trans coding video files is a complex challenge for both law enforcement agencies and video forensic experts. There are a wide variety of surveillance system manufacturers and a larger number of different models of DVRs, which makes on-site retrieval of video recordings a difficult process, often necessitating access to the technical manual of the DVR on which the recording is stored.

The investigators at Primeau Forensics have worked on countless evidence recovery assignments where simple cloning of the DVR’s hard drive would have been the worst retrieval strategy of all. First, the cloned drive may not mount on our computers, which run Windows and Apple operating systems. Second, proprietary files are often invisible files outside their native OS. They cannot be detected or read by any operating system but the embedded OS running on the dedicated device. Third, video files may be encoded using a non-standard codec and/or formatted within a non-standard wrapper.

For example, NVR format video files, frequently used in surveillance systems, come in a multitude of types, each with its own structural and descriptive metadata. Associated files present, such as the control files and system files that enable playback on the original DVR, will often impede playback on general-purpose computers. File Investigator Engine and File Expander Engine from Dark Data Discovery allow forensic investigators to identify and open over 4,300 different types of files, yet simply cloning the DVR’s hard drive remains a strategy fraught with complications.

Successful retrieval of DVR recordings always requires preparation and research beforehand. We always browse the Internet, contact the manufacturer, and read the manuals over and over to determine the best way to preserve this fragile digital evidence in its most pristine quality. As trial verdicts may turn on the outcome of our analysis of evidentiary video, we want to personally recover the video to establish a clear chain of custody, prevent accidental loss of files, and preserve the video quality through recovery and trans coding to an open format.

We recommend the following 4-step process for retrieval of video from DVRs:

1)      As previously mentioned, research the design, inputs/outputs and operation of the DVR you are examining. Obtain the special software, codecs, and technical manuals necessary to examine the unit properly.

2)      Photograph the digital video recorder before you begin the inspection. Take note of any markings or signs of tampering.

3)      Connect the DVR or mobile digital video recorder to the power source that will power the unit best. Sometimes, mobile digital video recorders require an AC/DC cable system to power the unit in an office environment. The vehicle or locale in which it was originally installed may have had custom power connections, not available if the unit is pulled for examination.

4)      Connect the data transfer cable supplied with the unit to your Windows laptop for examination. In some cases, this will be a standard USB or FireWire cable. Mobile video recorders, in particular, frequently require a proprietary cable. Having installed the DVR emulation software provided by the manufacturer and the proprietary encoder/decoder, you are ready to follow the instructions in the manual to retrieve the highest quality video possible.

If you need professional assistance recovering video evidence from a digital video recorder, please call us today! Call 800-647-4281 for a free consultation.


Police Car Video Surveillance ICV (In Car Video) Systems

January 10th, 2014

police car ICVWritten by Marc Linden

Over the past twenty years, the technology behind police car video surveillance systems has evolved significantly. Simultaneously, acceptance of these systems among citizens and police has continued to grow. Police car video surveillance systems are commonly referred to as in-car video (ICV), and I am often called to appear as an expert witness when such video recordings are introduced as evidence in a trial or hearing. My job is to clarify the contents of the video and check that the recording has not been tampered with in any way.

Modern ICV systems are completely digital and store compressed video with sound on hard-disk or solid-state drives. The police officer or state trooper wears a wireless mic, and a dash mounted camera captures video. During a traffic stop, the ICV makes a permanent record of everything that transpires between the police and motorist. The watermarked video is stored in a tamper-proof enclosure, and a careful chain of custody is maintained as the video is removed from the car, downloaded, and archived.

Here are the numbers: there are about 18,000 independent municipalities in the U.S., and they own roughly 450,000 patrol cars. Approximately 50% of those cars are currently equipped with ICV. With systems priced between $3,000 and $5,000 per vehicle, this represents a substantial investment. Despite tight local budgets, sales of ICV systems to state and local law enforcement continue to grow at a healthy rate.

Given the growth of the industry, I was quite surprised by a story related to me recently by a colleague. He said that the Massachusetts State Police had recently removed all ICV systems from their patrol cars in an effort to boost conviction rates in cases where traffic stops resulted in arrests. Could it be true that a completely objective record of arrests was of greater use to defense attorneys than prosecutors?

My colleague was right. Currently, not a single Massachusetts State Police patrol car is equipped with in-car video. But there’s more to the story. Their patrol cars have NEVER had ICV!

Digging deeper, I found that even though 72% of all Highway Patrol and State Police patrol cars are ICV equipped, there are 4 or 5 states where none of these vehicles have video, and Massachusetts is one of those states. It seems there are a variety of factors that play a part when state or local police make the choice to opt-out of ICV technology. There may be budgetary constraints, or officers and their unions may object on the grounds that ICV hampers police, who are constantly on guard against being caught making a mistake or an error in judgment. Then, there are different interpretations of overlapping federal, state, and local laws regarding privacy; there are states where audio and/or video recording requires dual party consent (e.g., Massachusetts), and there are states where single part consent is sufficient (e.g., Maine).

My guess, however, is that the most important factor in determining whether state or local police have ICV is public opinion. For some, the threat of “Big Brother” watching them 24/7 makes ICV an indefensible intrusion on their civil rights and their privacy. Massachusetts State Police have no in-car video and neither do local police in Boston. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the farther one travels east, away from Boston, the more local police patrol cars are ICV equipped.

Personally, I think ICV helps protect everyone involved, both officers and motorists. And according to The International Association of Chiefs of Police, in situations where an officer’s conduct has been called into question, police car video surveillance systems have helped exonerate those officers in 96.2% of all cases.