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Do Citizens Have a Right to Video Record Police Offers?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

The following article is a culmination of information generated by our research team at Primeau Forensics on how to record police officers. Our goal is to answer the question ‘do citizens have a right to video record police officers’? To best answer this question, Primeau Forensic staff surveyed police officers, law enforcement leadership, concerned citizens, and attorneys to present their answers about video recording and assisting police officers.  Their answers are included in the following article.  Concerned citizens can actually assist police officers and employ proper methods when video recording. Always remember, everyone’s safety is a top priority!

The specific details expressed in this post are based primarily on Michigan law. However, this information we have gathered and presented in this article is universal. If you are reading outside the United States of America, consider laws that may be enforced in your community or jurisdiction.

The department of homeland security has a saying “if you see something say something.” Our philosophy is, “if you see something, film something.”

In a public place where there is no expectation of privacy, a concerned citizen is allowed to record video police officers or take pictures. However, A concerned citizen cannot video record in a manner in which they are considered interfering with the event or investigation. This includes video recording or entering too close within the officer’s tactical operating area. Again, safety is priority. Interference to an investigation diverts the police officers attention or reduces their focus. In other words, “does the police officer consider that you are interfering with the investigation at that time” ? If you are warned by the officer during a video recording, adjust your approach, where you’re standing, and what you’re filming.

Working with a police officer and not against them

Be aware that an officer may have a tremendous amount on his or her mind. They may be in a heightened sense of awareness from this critical incident or a previous incident to the one you are currently video recording. Keep this in mind when you are video recording police officers.

If you are a video recording witness, write down your name and number for the police officer and mention you saw what happened. That way they will contact you later if you can assist with the investigation. If the police officer is unavailable or too busy at the time, you can supply this information to their shift supervisor.

On the other hand, you have a right to remain anonymous and video record police officers. As a concerned citizen, you can request to remain an anonymous witness. There are some witnesses whose employment may require that they present the recordings, statements, or anything heard to assist a police officer. These include nurses, social workers, security officers, paramedics, and first responders. Whether you record an event, or are an eye witness to one, you could be subpoenaed and ordered to go to court. If you are a witness, you may be asked to give a statement, and/or appear in court.

In order to protect the integrity of the parties involved as well as the investigation, it is crucial to remain unbiased to video record police officers

To remain an unbiased witness, record the entire event. Don’t be biased and record one party or part of an event. We find some recording witnesses focus on the police officer only. Pointing the camera directly at the officer introduces bias and makes the video you are recording difficult to view the entire event. Record the entire interaction of all parties. Don’t be offended if the police officer tells you to back up or to move away. You could in danger or a threat.

An other article that may help: http://www.videoforensicexpert.com/5-tips-for-preparing-digital-video-evidence-for-court/

The guidelines provided in this video are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website.

To learn more about our expert security consultant, Theo Chalogianis, please feel free to contact Chalogianis Consulting LLC at chalogianis@gmail.com.

 

Audio in Video Evidence

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Sound-analyse Audio in Video EvidenceWhen performing an audio and video authentication and analysis,a trained audio video forensic expert will utilize several methods in an attempt to detect an edit in a video recording that is used as evidence. Some of the time a critical ear can be just as important to a video forensic expert as the scientific community accepted software tools and an established chain of custody.

Though it is said that “A picture is worth a thousand words,” an audio file can be worth even more in a video forensic laboratory. A trained video forensic expert knows what to look for (or listen to) during a forensic video authentication and analysis investigation.

Many CCTV systems now have the capability to record audio, and this audio portion of the surveillance video recording can be crucial to the legitimacy of the digital video evidence. Audio is a great tool to investigate and detect an anomaly or edit when investigating a video recording. To do so there’s a process and protocol we follow at Primeau Forensics. 

Audio is comprised of “sound pressure waves,” which are waveform representative of the change in air pressure in a recording. One characteristic of sound pressure waves is that they are always smooth and continuous.

Let’s say, for example, you’re recording in an open, quiet room. While you’re recording, a rebellious teenager comes in the room and blows off his air-horn. Even though that loud sound completely changed the overall sound in the room, the wave that represents the pressure change will always be smooth and continuous.

The only time that a wave is not smooth and continuous is when an edit is made. Keeping this in mind will give you more of an idea of what you’re listening for.

When an edit is made to a recording, this disturbs the waveform. This makes it temporarily rigid and inconsistent. All sound pressure waves should be the opposite of that. So, when I am critically listening and hear a sound that is outside of that smooth, uninterrupted audio file, I know I have an anomaly that may be an edit.

How is that disturbance represented? Well, it will usually manifest itself in the form of a ‘pop’. In the context of video, it usually will only last a frame, but the sound will be there. If you hear anything that deviates from the already established waveform, you know that the evidence may have been edited.

Adobe and Izatope RX has software that allows a forensic experts to more accurately detect these edits. For example, a “spectrogram,” detects the “noise floor” in a recording. The spectrum recorded for a noise floor should be consistent in visual characteristics as long as nothing changes with the ambiance in a recording. When you see a deviation in that consistency, just as if you hear one in the dialogue, you can tell that the audio, and sub-sequentially the video, may have been altered.

There are many ways to detect edits visually when reviewing digital video evidence. Beginning with an established chain of custody and performing forensic video authentication and analysis will reveal integrity in your video recording or anomalies that reveal scientifically that the CCTV video recording may have been compromised and is unreliable.

Increase in Body Worn Cameras

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

le2-3 Increase in Body Worn CamerasIn the last few years, Primeau Forensics has seen an increase in cases that involve surveillance video including body camera video recordings. This digital video evidence is very important in order of investigators and the Trier of Fact to understand the events as they occurred.

Much of this activity began back in 2013 and helped locate and identify the Boston Marathon Bombers. FBI investigators had to cull through dozens if not hundreds of hours of CCTV video surveillance recordings in order to find and identify the terrorists that were eventually responsible for these acts of violence.

Lately, video as evidence is expanding to include body worn cameras that have been implemented into many police agencies across the United States. President Obama authorized funding for police agencies to purchase this equipment. Currently, there are numerous police agencies around the country that are testing different makes of body cameras and learning how to properly integrate them into their procedures. Many of these agencies have been transparent with their testing and have begun to approve further funding to outfit more officers with cameras.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan Police Department was recently testing two different kinds of body-worn cameras among eight different police officers, who presented their feedback on the camera systems online. The city has now approved the funding for two hundred officers to be outfitted with cameras. The Seattle, Washington Police Department has also been very open about their body camera testing, even releasing some of the footage online for the public to see. To maintain privacy, they blurred the video and removed the audio so no individuals could be identified. A large amount of the public has been pushing for police worn body cameras ever since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August.

The benefit of body worn cameras is that they protect everyone, police officers as well as citizens. Many police agencies are in full support of the cameras because they reduce the questioning of what happened during an altercation. If a disagreement is established against an officer, internal affairs will be able to check the body camera video and see the events as they occurred. Police agencies believe this will be very helpful with training officers and improving the relationship between the public and police.

The biggest issue arising from the increase of body worn cameras is the huge amount of data being created. Not only does this require a very large amount of storage space, but it must be stored securely so that the video evidence cannot be tampered with. Thankfully, many of the companies providing these body worn cameras also include proprietary software that ensures the evidence cannot be modified between the camera and the system. Access to the video will be limited to authorized personnel only to maintain the authenticity and safety of the video evidence.

As a Video Forensic Expert, I see many benefits to this increase in body worn cameras. I have worked on numerous cases in which evidence from a body worn camera greatly helped the investigation and proceeding trial. Police dash cameras have often been used as video evidence for investigations but they often do not show the entire altercation because of their stationary view. Police body worn cameras add a second perspective to be used along with the dash cam which can be invaluable to an investigation. Having the two angles of the event in question allows anyone involved in the case to get a better picture of what happened.

Of course all video recordings submitted as evidence in a civil or criminal litigation must have an established chain of custody that supports the events and provides integrity for the digital video evidence. We encourage you to review our series on How to Properly Record a Police Officer when adding Good Samaritan video recordings to an investigation.

 

Video Evidence – South Carolina Officer Shooting Unarmed Black Man

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

891495_84762078-300x202 Video Evidence – South Carolina Officer Shooting Unarmed Black ManA South Carolina police officer was arrested yesterday for the murder of an unarmed black man. This is all because of a video that surfaced of the North Charleston officer, Michael Slager, firing eight times at the unarmed man as the man fled in an open field.

According to police reports, the victim in question, 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, continued to flee after being hit by the officer’s stun gun. Police report that Mr. Scott had taken Officer Slager’s stun gun, which lead to a reasonable pursuit.

However, the video seems to show a different story. The stun gun is dropped, and after Mr. Scott is gunned down and the officer is seen dropping something next to the unarmed man. It is not clear as to what was dropped; however, some fear that this was planted on the man after his shooting, as police report that the officer’s taser was taken.

Whatever the case, the innocent bystander who recorded Good Samaritan video aided in this investigation. Not only did he take the responsibility to record the events, but he also utilized landscape mode on his cell phone to record the altercation. This provided additional digital video evidence for this investigation.

As you see in the first few seconds of the video, his shot in “portrait” orientation would not have accurately captured the events as they occurred. Mr. Scott would have run off screen, and we never would have seen this happen. However, because he shot the video in landscape mode, we’re able to see the shooting clearly.

Situations like this help reinforce the importance of the little devices in our pockets. Smartphone video can make or break a case like this, and we need to understand why it’s so crucial to utilize the tools we have when an unlawful event occurs. If it weren’t for this Good Samaritan, this story may have gone unseen and unnoticed. It really shows how important video can be.

You can watch the video below via the NY Times:

 

Creating Video Work Products as an Audio/Video Forensic Expert

Monday, March 9th, 2015

The-Studio-Treated-1024x633 Creating Video Work Products as an Audio/Video Forensic ExpertVideo work products are a way to document forensic investigations, like evidence recovery, for reference at a later date. Processes and procedures are documented using a video camera during a forensic investigation for future use. I have referred back to my video work product many times when I have questions later during the evolution of the case.

As an Audio & Video Forensic Expert, I have examined hundreds of audio and video recordings to determine authenticity, as well as enhance characteristics of the digital evidence to clarify the events as they occurred. This video recording is referred to as ‘video work product’ and comes in handy.

There are a few different digital video recording platforms that I use when creating ‘video work product’. I often use VIEVU body worn cameras and HDSLR
photography based cameras. Each one of these types of systems serves a certain purpose in assisting with a forensic investigation, as well as the investigative process.

Over the last few years, I have seen firsthand the significance and overall efficiency that body worn cameras and their recorded video can bring to the public, law enforcement and legal proceedings. I personally use the VIEVU LE2 and LE3 body worn cameras. The LE3 records in 720p HD resolution and utilizes a 68 degree field of view. Other competitor cameras tend to use a 130 degree field of view, which captures a wider field of view but captures less detail. Detail is often more important when it comes to video evidence, which is one of the reasons I prefer to use VIEVU cameras.

These body worn cameras also contain digital audio recorders, which record MP3 format audio at a 44.1kHz sampling rate and a 64kbps bit rate. This high sampling rate captures the full range of human hearing, making any audio that is recorded on the camera more audible. In some cases, the client lawyer or law enforcement agencies that I work for require that no audio be recorded while video is being taken. The LE3 audio recorder can be switched off separately from the video, which gives me flexibility in such a situation. The LE3 records to either MP4 or AVI video format for easy playability across various platforms utilizing the H.264 codec. These formats also allow easy integration into my forensic programs, such as the Adobe Production Premium Suite. The 16 GB flash style storage system allows for either 12 hours of SD video or 6 hours of HD video and quick data transfer rates. The battery will last 5 hours during SD recording and 3 hours during HD recordings. The unit is also compatible with an external battery pack for extended battery life.

My main use for the LE3 body camera in my investigations is recording my forensic process in the field. This includes retrieving evidence from different systems so I can review the video later and include it in my report to support the authenticity of my work product and any evidence used in the case. Often times a forensic expert will be challenged by a client or opposing lawyer to verify the chain of custody of the materials produced during an investigation. Even minor details about how the investigation was conducted can have a large bearing on the authenticity of the evidence. Having a digital video recorder on my person during my forensic investigation allows me to capture both video of my process and my dialogue explaining the process. Including this work product to my forensic reports verifies the chain of custody and protects me as a forensic expert.

Another type of digital video camera that I use to produce video work product is an HDSLR photography camera. This type of camera equipment has become popular among the scientific community, as well as production companies, for its portability, versatility, quality and functionality. An HDSLR photography camera can use different size lenses to capture both images, as well as video, in different ways depending on the investigation requirements. HDSLR cameras record in 720p, 1080p, anamorphic and even 4k resolution. These cameras typically record at 30 minute intervals and have a battery life of approximately 2 hours of recording time, depending on the preferred quality and the available storage space. When connected to an external power source, these cameras can record for longer intervals of time. HDSLR cameras are great for recording a locked down alternative perspective to body cameras of an investigation or retrieval process. The flexibility of being able to produce individual still images as well as video throughout an investigation is also helpful with my forensic process.

In some investigations, a single video recorded perspective may not be sufficient to display the forensic process or document the events. Having another high quality camera with flexibility of perspectives and interchangeable lenses can capture aspects of my investigation that body worn cameras cannot. This lockdown feature of a point and shoot camera can also allow an investigator or client attorney to view the process as if they are sitting there watching in real time. Another use for HDSLR cameras as a forensic expert is recording accident reconstruction videos. An accident reconstruction video is a recreation of an event or series of events in the same environment that they occurred so they can be shown to a client investigator, client attorney and/or law enforcement. An accident reconstruction video is most effective to show the real life series of events as opposed to a 3D animation or a written statement of the events.

Video recorded by Closed Circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems has been the dominant source of video evidence that I have investigated during my 30 years of being an audio video forensic expert.

Video evidence produced by CCTV systems can help solve crime, as well as reproduce accidents and disasters as they occurred for play back in many different settings. One significant use a video forensic expert has when recording video from a CCTV system is to create an exemplar. An exemplar recording is a recording made in the most similar way possible to the original piece of evidence using the same equipment, settings, environment and conditions of the original evidence. This recording is used as a comparison file to the original evidence to help determine the authenticity of the original evidence. Both the quality of the video and the metadata included in the files will be compared when conducting a forensic investigation.

It is a best practice of ours at Primeau Forensics to video record many forensic investigations, such as our exemplar creation process or evidence recovery, so if our client has any questions during the life of their case, this video work product can be referenced.

Body Worn Cameras; More Safe than Dash Cam for Police

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

837248_83687380-300x200 Body Worn Cameras; More Safe than Dash Cam for 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.


More ABC US news | ABC World News

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!

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

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

tU3ptNgGSP6U2fE67Gvy_SYDNEY-162-300x200 The Evolution of Mobile Video and What It Could Mean for 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.

Video Evidence Recovery for Video Enhancement

Monday, April 14th, 2014

1153871_61229211-1-1024x951 Video Evidence Recovery for Video EnhancementThe importance of proper video evidence recovery for video enhancement is very clear to those of us involved in forensic video enhancement. During the process of video evidence recovery, we will make sure the highest quality video recording will be properly saved for use in court. Video forensic experts are trained in video evidence recovery.

As an audio/video forensic expert I have worked on many cases involving digital video recordings. These recordings are admitted into evidence in court. Much of the work we do on these recordings is video enhancement which allows the Trier of Fact to better see the events as they occurred. Some of the time this digital video evidence is recorded on video surveillance systems. Other times it is recorded on smart-phones.  Video surveillance recordings that we forensically enhance are properly 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 buses, trains and other types of public transportation.

Evidence Recovery Importance

There are three main factors we would like to mention regarding the reason for proper evidence recovery. First, when we retrieve recorded video evidence, we create a video recording of our process. This establishes an indisputable chain of custody. It also demonstrates for those who were not present the process and procedure we used. We take special precautions during the retrieval process to make sure we leave with at least one version of the recording. We also leave with the recorded video evidence for future forensic enhancement and authentication as necessary.

We retrieve the recording so as to minimize any degradation of quality created by a less experienced person. When a multi-million dollar lawsuit may depend on the analysis of a surveillance video, it is important NOT to leave evidence retrieval to an untrained security guard.

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

Best Practices

An excellent manual for retrieval of electronic evidence developed jointly by the federal government’s inter-agency 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 we take the DVR or its internal drive with me or make a lossless copy of its contents, I always follow anti-static procedures and carry all media in specially shielded cases.

Proprietary V.S. Open Source Video

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 re-compress the original proprietary format file, trans-coding it into a non-proprietary format for easy playback. However, these more accessible files often contain lower quality video and audio. When we retrieve these digital video files, we 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, we ensure that our lab analysis is based on the best video recording available.

Video as Evidence – CCTV Video and Video Forensics

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

CCTV-Evidence-1024x768 Video as Evidence - CCTV Video and Video Forensics

As a video forensic expert and expert witness, I have seen almost everything when it comes to Closed Circuit TV. Some of it is very disturbing, but much of it is benign – from the lady whose ex-husband is stalking her, to the bank that just captured a robbery on video. Understanding CCTV systems has become part of the video forensic examiner’s job because a majority of video evidence is made on CCTV systems. In the following article, I will give you my tips, from a forensic perspective, on CCTV.

Imagine this. You are the proprietor of a convenience store. Last night at 11:06, you rang up a customer’s Snickers bar and a Jumbo Slurpee. The customer reached in his pocket, pulled out a gun, and put it to your head, demanding all the cash in the register. Terrified for your life, you gave him the money. Luckily you had a CCTV system and turned the tape over to the police. The police sent it to a forensic expert because all you could see on the tape was a dark silhouette of the criminal. Unfortunately,the robber’s face and features were unidentifiable.

Although CCTV systems can prove to be beneficial for many reasons, they can be useless without some well thought out considerations. My hope is that the law enforcement and legal community will read this article and pass on the information to the businesses in their community.

CCTV is a network of cameras hooked to a monitoring system so that virious locations or angles can be viewed and/or recorded. It does differ from broadcast television in that CCTV cameras are not openly bradcast through the airwaves.  However, some CCTV systems have point-to-point transmissions (wireless cameras) that could be intercepted by someone with the equipment and knowledge to intercept that signals.

The benefits outweigh the drawbacks for implementing CCTV systems for several reasons.  Think of how CCTV systems have helped our traffic problems. Having cameras all over our roads and highways allows accidents and traffic jams to be discovered sooner so traffic can be rerouted. In banks, casinos, airports, shopping centers, business and military bases; CCTV systems can prove beneficial against crime.

There are some drawbacks that can really cause problems with CCTV systems.  These systems can be expensive.  They can be considered an invasion of privacy.  Also a system can fail because of a bad or over-recycled tape, and the crime will not be recorded.

For some strange reason, businesses who still use VHS tape to record their surveillance often insist in recycling their videos beyond a logical limit.  Then, when the expert needs to lift an image off for identification, fuzzy, blurry photos are produced.

In the convenience store example above, the camera was in the wrong position. A light was installed in a recently added display that was not in the store when the CCTV system was installed.  Nobody ever updated the CCTV system or performed maintenance to discover the problem.

The purpose of this article is to share some of my experiences with CCTV footage and provide some tips from a forensic experts point of view, sound advice to avoid costly mistakes and expensive forensic restoration.

Number one: Plan your CCTV system layout in advance.  Do not put in a CCTV system without planning for a potential crime circumstances.  What crimes could be executed under the watchful eyes of your CCTV system? You can call this crisis management.  Draw a diagram of this activity. Use it as your blueprint for locating your camera positions.  If you own a business that has a back lot to cover, don’t just mount the camera to the back of your building thinking it will do the job.  Consider what you have to protect, the value of these items, and the various ways a criminal could get at them. Then, place the camera(s) to cover all potential activity. Consider multiple cameras because, in the long run, it will save you money.

Because so many systems were not planned throughly in advance, the majority of my forensic cases involve video restoration and clarification. So much of this can be avoided.

Number two: Use a digital video recorder and record direct to hard drive. If at all possible, do not use VHS.  There are some great companies like Focus Micro and Crest electronics who specialize in DVR CCTV systems, maintenance of the system, and training your staff to use them properly.  They offer some excellent products and CCTV systems, and will even help you plan your system layout.

Here are some reasons DVR is superior to VHS:

  • Far Better Image Quality
  • The Ability to view cameras, live or recorded, from another location through the internet.
  • Ease in copying images from crime scenes.
  • No VHS tapes to change.

Number three: Make sure to account for lighting conditions, as well as sun positions.

About one out of ten of my cases require comparison of a frame of evidence from a darkly lit video with an exemplar frame or photo.  Make sure there is light where your camera is located.  If necessary, hire an electrician to put in a light or two near your camera, especially if the potential crimes that warrant the installation of your CCTV system can occur at night. Duh! I can hear the installed now: “Sure looked good in daylight!”

In addition, consider sun positions all year long. Remember sixth grade science class? The sun changes positions with the seasons. Bright sun facing the camera will cause the iris in the camera to close (in automatic position) causing the image of the perpetrator to darken.  Try this with your home camera.  Take a video of your friends with the un behind them instead of behind you.  The friends will appear dark because of the camera’s lenses adjusting for the high light level.

Number four: Plan camera positions for all possible situations.  I have heard it said that if you want to rob a bank, wear a baseball cap. Why is it that CCTV installers put the cameras in high positions that will never show the criminals face?

Number five: Keep your camera clean. Car dealerships wash their windows and cars weekly if not more often.  Why don’t they wash their cameras? Think about it. Many outdoor cameras are somewhat protected from the elements, but after a while, dirt will still gather on the surface of the camera lenses.

A solution of Shaklee basic H or white vinegar in hot water will clean them nicely without scratching or clouding the lenses or protective housing.  Harsh cleaning chemicals can scratch or cloud the glass, especially on plexiglas camera housings.

Number six: do not use wireless cameras.  If at all possible, run cable and go wired for your entire network.  Wireless cameras are unreliable, especially in storms.

Almost all maintenance can be performed by you or done very reasonably by a professional.  Avoid costly mistakes and tragedy by keeping your system maintained and updated. Use Google to seek a professional who can help with your circumstances.

Ed Primeau is an video forensic expert, author, professional speaker and business owner in Rochester Hills, MI. He is the author of two books, “The Art Of Production” and “The Video Revolution.” Visit primeauproductions.com for more info.

The Power of Digital Forensic Analysis and CCTV.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

CCTV_Authentication-768x1024 The Power of Digital Forensic Analysis and CCTV.

More and more video evidence is entering the courtroom today than ever before. Some of the reasons for the increase in video evidence include the number of smartphones and closed circuit television network systems (CCTV) today. It is a fact that we are vulnerable to being on a video recording anytime we are in public. Almost all retail locations, including convenience stores, banks and gas stations, as well as almost all major city streets have video recording 24|7.

Invasion of Privacy?

The argument of invasion of privacy is dwindling and CCTV systems are helping report events and give us the ability to view those events as they originally occurred when looking for the truth of the recorded events.

Video evidence must of course maintain a proper chain of custody and be authentic before it ever enters the courtroom. Proper handling of the video evidence is imperative. Original videos should always be kept safe in their native environment to avoid evidence spoliation accusations. A trained and qualified video forensic expert will help you understand all protocols for the handling of forensic evidence.

One of the advantages of video evidence is the ability to present the courtroom, judge and jury with the actual events, first hand, as they occurred.  These videos help settle litigation quicker than a case that has no video evidence at all. Take the example of a recent CCTV system that recorded an altercation in a laundry mat in Brooklyn, New York. In the video below, the events as they actually occurred can easily be viewed for the litigation process:

On the other side of the forensic lab, these videos taken of a meteor hit in Russia from a combination of smartphones and local CCTV cameras show first hand relocation and witnessing of a meteor as it hits earth, and the damage that occurred as a result:


I suspect that as homeowners, businesses and municipalities continue to install CCTV systems to help keep their property secure and protected from crime. An even higher amount of litigation cases will include video recordings. The ability to view an event in question as it originally occurred is valuable, as it will stand as much stronger evidence in the courtroom. It’s hard to put a price tag on the value of digital media and video forensic evidence.

Video Forensic Expert Edward J Primeau Curriculum Vitae

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