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Smart Phone Video Enhancement

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Smart phone video enhancement is the process of applying scientific applications to a video recording in order to better see the events as they occurred. Smart phones and used to record video events like an accident or a crime.

We forensically clarify or enhance these events so they can be seen better. In the following paragraphs, we hope to communicate some information that will guide you on forensic video enhancement.

We have included some before and after forensic enhancement examples for your review. We also include advise on what to do to best capture an event in for forensic enhancement.

Since most smart phone video evidence is recorded freehand or without a tripod, you can’t guarantee the video usability. When people are nervous they shake while recording. In this case do not zoom in too much. A wide shot is less shaky than a zoomed in shot. Shaky video can result in less than quality video evidence.

Record on your smart phone video horizontally or landscape

When recording video on your smart phone, hold the phone horizontally and try not to zoom in. One of the most prevalent problems we have seen with video recordings are they shake and are not stable. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to see what’s happening.

Forensic video enhancement

The two clips below will help you understand how video forensic video enhancement works. The first clip is of an forensically enhanced iPhone video. The original video was a distant view from down the block as it was recorded. In the sample below, please note no stabilization or other forensic enhancement has been applied to this video.

In the enhanced sample below, we applied warp stabilization. Notice how the frame follows the motion of the video, creating a more stable picture for analysis.

As you can see, the subject in the video was not close enough to the smart phone camera. This makes it difficult to see the desired events as they occurred. Clip One is not very helpful in this condition for use in court. The subjects are very far away, making it difficult to see the events as they occurred and were recorded.

The science of forensic video enhancement

The forensic video enhancement process is not as simple as zooming in on the video recording. This will lower your overall video quality. Fixing it or enhancing your video isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the “enhance” button on your computer.

The reason that the quality of video is reduced when you zoom in has to do with something referred to as “pixels.”

Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is composed of a series of pixels that display the image you see in front of you.

Expanding an image means also expanding the size of each pixel. Because each pixel is representative of one “frame” of a bigger picture, such as photos making up a collage, each individual square pixel will expand along with the image. The increase of pixel size can cause distortion to the image, therefore making it even harder to decipher the contents of an image.

This is where a video forensic expert is necessary. We have training in video enhancement and experience using the hardware and software tools capable of clarifying and enhancing the events that occurred when you recorded your video.

As you saw in the second video sample above, the image has been expanded so that we can see the events that occurred up close. The quality of the video hasn’t been compromised. This is because of training and experience.

At the risk of being redundant, the biggest problem we see with smart phone video evidence is the orientation of the cell phone while recording. When we receive smart phone video evidence, many of the video recordings are vertically oriented. If your footage becomes evidence; not having a horizontal (or landscape) recorded video to work with really constricts your range of sight of a given event.

Utilizing the footage above as another example, notice that around the :25 second mark, the camera focuses on the Jeep pulling up, as another officer runs towards the scene. This takes our focus away from the scene, and we miss a substantial amount of the incident.

Had this evidence been shot horizontally, we may have been able to see what happened when that officer arrived to the scene, along with seeing the white Jeep parking in the background.

With the expansion of smart phone video technology, your smart phone can be of assistance recording crime and criminal activity. It is important to understand smart phone video enhancement from the forensic expert’s perspective. The highest quality video recording will reveal more in court. However, despite the quality, it is crucial to employ a video forensic expert to make the most out of your smart phone video.

Forensic Video Enhancement

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

editing-sweet-1-1512493 Forensic Video EnhancementForensic video enhancement (FVE) is the scientific approach to clarifying a video recording in order to better see the events as they occurred.

FVE can help litigators understand events that have been recorded on video but are difficult to see because of movement or shaky cameras, the subjects distance from the camera or video is too dark.

During the Boston bombings for example, CCTV cameras outside retail stores helped the FBI capture the terrorists who were responsible.

Some of the reasons video needs forensic enhancement is because too often cameras are not properly maintained. This is a huge problem that is not noticed until after the crime has been committed. Or, worse yet, the cameras are not installed or positioned properly.

In the following blog post we will provide you with a few facts on forensic video enhancement.

Original Video

– Always begin with the original video recording. Maintain a chain of custody for your video recording. If you have to export an AVI file to provide to police, keep a backup on thumb drive for insurance. If you have is a copy on DVD and not the original, then load the DVD copy of the video directly into your computer for forensic video enhancement.

Computer Software

– Use professional forensic software program to enhance like Adobe Premiere Pro and Clear ID. Primeau Forensics uses these as well as Adobe Photo Shop to enhance images exported from the video for forensic video enhancement. Remember, you can also export frames as still images to identify activity and other video components.

Color Correction

– Perform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark and or was recorded at night. Be careful not to add too much brightness.

Enlargement

– If you need to enlarge a portion of the recorded video viewing area, apply after you review the footage on a large video monitor. At Primeau Forensics we use minimum 27” professional video monitors. Remember, the larger the playback monitor, the better you can see events in the video and the less you need to enlarge your video as an enhancement step. This is even more important in the courtroom.

Equipment

– It is good to know, if you can, the type of equipment that made the video you are enhancing. Often times a poor CCTV video export may be to blame for the poor video quality. If the recording is stored on the system, we can make sure we have the best export to work with for forensic video enhancement.

Forensic video enhancement  is an art as well as a science. Please understand that you should use different filtering to get different results. Always begin with the largest file size and structure as close to original digital video recording as possible.

Call us for a consultation on your video that needs forensic enhancement 800.647.4281

The Video Recordings of the Shooting of Laquan McDonald

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

light-5-1573546 The Video Recordings of the Shooting of Laquan McDonaldOn November 24, 2015, police video that captured the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois was released to the public, almost 13 months after the incident took place. There has been a public outcry regarding not only the death of McDonald, but also the videos themselves.

The following blog post clarifies why there could be an absence of audio during the multiple videos released by the city of Chicago from the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Dash Camera Surveillance Systems Record Video and Audio

Video surveillance systems are closed circuit video recording systems that keep a pre-determined area under security by recording video and audio. Surveillance video cameras aid in deterring and documenting crime and other activity.

Some video surveillance systems record audio, others do not. Video surveillance systems in many department stores do not record audio. Video surveillance systems in gas stations, convenience stores and banks often do record audio, as well as video.

Police car dash cam surveillance systems record both audio and video for two reasons:

  1. To protect the police officer
  2. To deter profiling

Video Surveillance Systems like the ones used by the Chicago Police include Audio Recording

The question remains, why do the videos released by Chicago authorities of the Laquan McDonald shooting lack audio? What are the sounds heard on the video recordings that sound like sirens or whining?

If you watched the videos that have been released so far, electronic noise can be heard. This is defined as electronic cross talk. The digital video recorder in the squad car was recording audio, that is why we hear that whining sound. The problem is that no audio signal was being sent to the recorder. Was it a technical glitch or did the officers elect not to activate their body microphones? Perhaps they were all muted? Was there a problem downloading the digital recordings from each police car? Who has the chain of custody logs for the handling of this evidence?

In an interview for the Associated Press, our lead Audio Video Forensic Expert, Ed Primeau, comments on the lack of audio from multiple police cars being a red flag.

In a second interview for the Associated Press, published by ABC News, fellow Audio Video Forensic Expert Gregg Stuchman comments that ‘It’s plausible for a single squad car to have a glitch preventing sound recording.’ How could multiple cars not have recorded audio?

“I’ve never heard of it before,” Stutchman said. “It raises a red flag. The more likely explanation is that audio was intentionally switched off.”

The reality of this situation is that a full forensic investigation needs to be performed by a neutral, independent Audio Video Forensic Expert in order to determine the reason for the absence of police dialogue and radio communication from the audio portion of the digital video recordings released in the Laquan McDonald shooting.

We have examined thousands of police dash cam systems here at Primeau Forensics. Some include audio, others do not. There are three methods of activating dash cam video and audio.

  1. The officer activates the recording manually
  2. The squad car reaches a certain, predetermined speed for recording to begin
  3. The video is engaged in record when the squad car flashers are activated

One important note; the officers have the ability to mute or not activate their body microphone transmitter should they decide. However, the in car microphone almost always remains on.

YouTube Fake Squad Car Video

The Associated Press asked Primeau Forensics to examine a YouTube video of the Laquan McDonald shooting that has audio. After careful forensic examination of the  video, Ed Primeau concluded beyond a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the audio track on the video is fake. Careful analysis of the audio spectrum contained on the video indicates many signs of post event alterations.

We hope this blog post about dash cam video and audio surveillance recordings will help clear up any misconception about the absence of audio on the Chicago Police Dash Camera Videos.

Tips for Mobile Video/Cell Phone Video Enhancement

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

unsplash_525f012329589_1-300x198 Tips for Mobile Video/Cell Phone Video EnhancementIn past blog posts, we have discussed techniques that we use as video forensic experts that get the best results when conducting mobile video/cell phone video enhancement. What we have yet to discuss is how we get the best results when enhancing mobile video recordings.

Since most mobile video evidence is shot freehand on a smart-phone camera, you can’t guarantee that the video evidence will be of legitimate quality. People are often nervous when video recording something like a fight, accident or other public situation and naturally shake while recording. Smart- phone video quality is often good at best. The placement of your subject and method of recording video can lead to poor video evidence that needs forensic enhancement.

As a video forensic expert, we know firsthand about all of the tools available in software programs and out board digital signal processors that can help your video provide valuable information to the authorities.

At Primeau Forensics, we have a team of video experts that have reviewed and enhanced hundreds of videos, some of which are from smart-phone cameras. One of the most prevalent problems that we have noticed through experience is unstable smart-phone video recordings. The chaotic motion of a cell phone video can make it hard to tell what’s happening.

One of the tools we use is made by Adobe; Adobe products have excellent tools for video enhancement assignments. One tool can be found in Adobe After Effects. It’s a plug-in entitled the “warp stabilizer.” This plugin creates a full frame reference for the shakiness of a smart phone video. It enhances the viewer’s ability to view the video better and determine the events that occurred more effectively.

For example, we have posted two clips below. The first clip is from an actual video enhancement case. It was recorded using an iPhone. No stabilization has been applied to this video. Look at how difficult it is to see the events as they occurred.

IMG 1363 from Primeau Forensics on Vimeo.

In the next video, we take the same source clip, but this time apply several filters including warp stabilization. Notice how it is easier to view the video as the frame follows the motion of the video, creating a more stable picture for analysis.

IMG 1363.MOV CLARIFIED VIDEO from Primeau Forensics on Vimeo.

In many cases, such as the video above, the subject at hand will not be close enough to the smart-phone capturing the video, making it nearly impossible to make out the events as they occurred. In the first video example above, the subjects are very far away, making it difficult to make out what is happening.

A trained video forensic expert knows how to apply tools that will enhance the video evidence. These tools allow you to zoom in on a video and clarify difficult-to-see events. This process may lower your overall video quality, and as Hollywood may lead you to believe, fixing it isn’t nearly as simple as pushing the “enhance” button.

The reason that the quality of this video is reduced when zoomed in has to do with the video “pixels.”Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is composed of a specific amount of pixels that make up the clear image you see in front of you.

To further explain, think of a collage. Have you ever seen a collage composed of much smaller pictures? Once the pictures are combined in a specific order (usually by color), it creates a much bigger image. Think of pixels as those smaller square pictures that make up the entire picture.

Expanding an image also means increasing the size of each pixel. Because each pixel is a representative of one “frame” of a bigger picture, such as the photos making up a collage, each individual square pixel will expand along with the image. The increase of pixel size can cause distortion to the image, therefore making it even harder to decipher the contents of an image.

Luckily, Photoshop and other Adobe programs provide solutions called “pixel interpolation.”

Generally, pixel interpolation provides two options for this video enhancement situation. You can utilize a plugin known as the “bi-cubic smoother,” which blends each cubic pixel together to create a more cohesive image.

The other plugin is known as the “pyramid shaper.” This allows for a similar process, however, this follows what’s known as pyramid coordinates, an alternate method of morphing the pixels.

Which one of these methods is best comes down to the circumstances surrounding your investigation.

As you see in the second video, the image has been enhanced so the viewer can better see the events that occurred. It is important to note that the quality of the video hasn’t been compromised. This is because steps were taken like applying the bi-cubic smoother allowing the pixels to cooperate making a image more clear.

The biggest problem we see at Primeau Forensics with mobile video evidence is the orientation of the cell phone while recording.

If you should find yourself recording a video using a smart-phone, first and most importantly be sure to turn the phone on it’s side or ‘landscape’. We receive a lot of video evidence where the phone was held vertically instead of horizontally. This is fine when your intent is to view the footage directly on the phone, but when that footage becomes evidence; not having a full frame horizontal recorded video eliminates a large portion of the scene being video recorded. The vertical position records a much more narrow view of the scene and instead records larger height dimensions. This keeps potentially valuable information off the videos and out of the court room. It dramatically constricts the viewer’s range of sight of a given event.

Regarding the footage shown above; notice that around the 0:25 second mark, the camera focuses on the Jeep pulling up as another officer runs toward the scene. This distracts our focus away from the scene, and we miss a substantial amount of the incident.

Had this evidence been shot horizontally, we would have been able to view more of the events including the activity that happened as the officer arrived at the scene. We would also have been able to better see the white Jeep in the background which was an important detail.

Using another smart-phone video as another example, the footage below is a recording from a smart-phone of the events that transpired after this year’s tragic Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. The two gunmen are seen driving away from the scene of the crime before encountering a police car. The suspects shoot at the police car, causing the police to retreat, and speed off again.

If you notice, you’ll see two black bars along the outside of the vertical video. This video was also recorded holding the smart phone in a vertical position. Had this video been recorded holding the phone horizontally we would have more information recorded that may have revealed additional useful information. This scene happened just before the gunmen got away and killed additional people.

With the expansion of mobile video technology, any cell phone could effectively record a crime scene that can go on to become crucial evidence. The highest quality video recording can help litigators more effectively.

The Palace Brawl: The Significance of Video Evidence

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

204943_9062-300x225 The Palace Brawl: The Significance of Video EvidenceNovember 19, 2004 was the day the worst sporting brawl in US history took place. It was the final few minutes of the basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons when a fight broke out between the players. While Ron Artest was in time out, a drunken fan tossed a partially full beer cup and hit Artest causing him to jump over seats and attack a fan in the stands. With tempers running hot, Artest went after the wrong person and triggered an ‘every man for himself’ situation with only four Auburn Hills police officers in the building.

After the criminal litigations were over, the attorney for the Pacers, Steve Potter retained my services as a video forensic expert on behalf of the Indiana Pacers basketball team. My first activity was to collect all of the available video footage from that moment when the brawl broke out. As you can imagine there were many video sources. With the help of http://www.potterlaw.com/ , I found cell phone videos, CCTV system video from the Palace of Auburn Hills and four major television network multi camera video sources.

The next task was to cull through all the footage including multi camera views of the brawl and isolate those vantage point views that helped bring the brawl into the courtroom for the civil litigations.

I was prepared with several video clips when the first civil case went to trial, Haddad V Indiana Pacers on August 10, 2006. (Read all about it here).

Here are the video forensic activities I used to help the Trier of Fact and jurors’ view the brawl including all isolated incidents in question. After I received all video footage, I loaded the various formats into my forensic computer using Adobe Premiere Pro software.  I created sequences for each incident and placed the useful camera vantage point clips back to back in each sequence. Some events went by very fast so I repeated the video clips and added slow motion. In some cases I reduced the speed by 25%, 50% and 75% so all persons could see the series of events as they occurred.  When necessary I also added a zoom to enlarge the area of interest in each video clip.

In my opinion it is very important to place this series of clips back to back with a 5 second pause in between clips so the viewer can become acclimated with the series of events as they occurred.  For each clip vantage point there was an average of two to five minutes of video all persons could watch to see exactly what went down during the brawl.

Read more about the brawl:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacers%E2%80%93Pistons_brawl 

Footage from the infamous brawl can be found below:

Video Enhancement: What is and is Not Possible

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

1196094_53229389-300x225 Video Enhancement: What is and is Not PossibleAs a video forensic expert I am asked, on a regular basis, to enhance images that have been recorded. One of the goals of video enhancement, in some cases, is to be able to see persons faces better than they are when viewing the video under normal circumstances. Other times I am asked to enlarge and clarify a video in order to identify, for instance, the license plate on a car that is driving by that is alleged to be involved in criminal activity.

With video enhancement, as a forensic expert, I can only do so much with what has been given me. In a lot of cases, the video that has been exported from the surveillance system is small and when I enlarge it, or zoom in on the objects of interest they become very blurry and distorted. Even with some of the best software programs available today a full enhancement isn’t always possible. So, when receiving calls from attorneys or government agencies, as well as private individuals who are involved in litigation that has video evidence, what I’ve learned to do is to ask to see the video first on a pro bono basis before being retained as an expert. Because that way I can determine what is and is not possible before taking money from a potential client.

I feel this is important not only from an ethical standpoint but also from a practical one. Meeting any client’s expectations in any business is extremely important. Taking money from someone that you can’t help is not good business practice. At Primeau Forensics, I am assisted by a team of investigators that can load the video and perform some processes that I’ve trained them to do to prepare the video for a pro bono viewing and at that time I can look, make some suggestions, and determine whether or not I feel I can help the person enquiring about the video enhancement.

One tip that I can present to you, reading this blog, is to make sure you always have the highest possible quality export from the surveillance system. Police departments often send me video from a surveillance system that was not exported through the system but rather recorded from the VGA ‘out’ or video monitor output to a portable digital video recorder. There are several companies that manufacture this type of turnkey evidence retrieval system. And, in some cases, that video is better than what the system is capable of exporting. And, when in doubt, send the video forensic expert both files: the screen capture VGA out or video out from the system, as well as an export from the system. And by ‘export’ I mean, the process used from a CCTV surveillance system to officially export video from the system to a thumb drive or DVD.  And if you have the option to choose a thumb drive or DVD, oftentimes the digital file onto the thumb drive is better than the DVD. And when in doubt, send all three: the screen capture, the thumb drive and the DVD, because then we know up front what is and is not possible for video enhancement.

A DVD is NOT an Original Video

Monday, November 25th, 2013

1418171_59762260-300x199 A DVD is NOT an Original VideoMore often than not, a DVD is not an original video.

Many law enforcement organizations create DVD copies for defendants because they are much easier to play than native digital video formats. This can be confusing so allow me to further explain. Over the last 30 years as a practicing audio/video forensic expert, I have experienced many digital file formats, as well as analogue tape formats, used in litigation. Usually, they are able to successfully serve a purpose by showing the facts as they occurred. These videos help bring the scene of the crime into the court room so the Trier of Fact and the jury can make decisions more accurately. People alter video and eliminate sections they do not want the court to see. This is why as a video forensic expert, I am asked to examine and authenticate video evidence when one of the parties in the litigation disagrees with the contents of the video.  When the video evidence is presented on a DVD as a VOB ‘burn,’ it is nearly impossible for me to authenticate because the meta data has been stripped. When digital video is created, the meta data in the digital video file has information about the equipment that made the digital video file, the date and time the digital video was recorded and most importantly, a footprint of any video editing software that was used before that video was admitted into evidence. All of this meta data information is stripped from the digital video recording if the video has been burned to a DVD. Part of my job is to investigate the history of the video in evidence and help attorneys and prosecutors obtain originals or better understand the video evidence before any due process begins. One of the biggest problems I find is that most of the video entered into evidence is on a DVD and is not original. When either of the litigators question the contents of a video, they ask for my help to determine if any editing or alteration has occurred. I always encourage prosecutors and lawyers to maintain the original video evidence in the recorder that created it because that way, a full forensic investigation is easily executed. Once that original video is deleted, it becomes much more difficult to investigate forensically. In some cases, a properly made copy of the original evidence will include the important meta data necessary for the authentication process. Leaving the digital video file in its native format is much better than converting the video format to a DVD VOB file through the burning process.

How to Enhance Security Camera Videos – Enhance Video Quality

Monday, September 30th, 2013

CCTV-300x231 How to Enhance Security Camera Videos - Enhance Video QualityHow to Enhance Video Quality

As a video forensic expert, CCTV enhancement (closed circuit television) is a day to day practice we perform on video recordings from both digital and analogue surveillance systems. Often times, the courts we testify in want to know how to enhance security camera videos. In the following post, Video Forensic Expert  describes CCTV enhancement and how to enhance CCTV camera videos to retain quality and clarify the recorded events. We will also cover the basics to best practices to ensure the most successful and accurate forensic video enhancement.

What is CCTV Enhancement?

CCTV Enhancement is done using non destructive techniques to preserve the video evidence integrity and pixel quality. Some of the most requested forensic video enhancement are licence plates. Clarifying or enhancing the events as they occurred assists the trier of fact to make determinations about the video events. 

As a video forensic expert we are asked to enhance recordings used as video evidence to clarify the events as they occurred. Video recordings used as evidence can be enhanced regardless if they were recorded during the day or at night. The success of the CCTV Enhancement is directly proportionate to the quality of the video recording. We can perform a preliminary analysis to make sure we  are confident in meeting our client’s expectations. 

Often times we are asked to provide forensic image enhancement as well for identification purposes. We use various software programs and CCTV enhancement tools to help us enhance or clarify (clarify is a much better word use in the courtroom) the desired video images. We create customized filtering to sharpen the video image and remove video noise for identification and enhancement of the images in the CCTV Surveillance video.

How to enhance video quality?

A variety of CCTV Enhancement techniques are applied in different arrangements on CCTV surveillance video recordings, smart phone video recordings, law enforcement dash camera recordings as well as other types of recordings used as video evidence. The most important ingredient to this scientific process is to maintain the highest quality of the video recording and establish a chain of custody. This yields the highest success possible throughout the investigation. If the analog video or digital video file has undergone additional compression, this video evidence will be limited to the enhancement possibilities.

 

  • Scaling/Pixel Interpolation: Re-size, or scale an image or video to a larger resolution to further identify suspects.
  • Sharpening: Enhances the edge contrast of an image or video.
  • Warp Stabilization: This is most common today with smart phone video evidence. Reduces the amount of movement from the user that created the video evidence.
  • Shadow and Highlight Adjustments (Exposure): Reveals subtle detail in the shadow and/or highlight areas of your images.
  • Frame Averaging: Increase the quality of the image by combining data from surrounding frames as well as a better signal to noise ratio (SNR) in your images or videos.
  • Speed Reduction: Decrease the original playback of video evidence to view the events as they occurred in more detail.

 

CCTV Enhancement Tips

First, take the necessary steps to preserve your original CCTV recording. You may have various export options for extracting the CCTV video from your system that you are not aware of. By preserving the original evidence, the opportunity for questioning the integrity of the CCTV video diminishes. This is especially true if the video recording is extracted from the original system. You can also consult a video forensic expert about the best methods and file format exporting options that your CCTV system is capable of.

Second, if a crime has been captured on a CCTV video system, you will want to export a copy for the local police. Most consumer based CCTV camera video systems have easy to follow instructions for exporting AVI files (courtroom ready format) directly to mobile storage. Most consumer based CCTV camera systems require a flash drive storage medium to export to. These drives are easily available at any office supply store like Office Max or Staples. The AVI formatted video is also easily view-able by an video forensic expert or investigator for immediate review.

CCTV enhancement is done using various software programs by a trained and qualified professional like video forensic expert. Pixels are enlarged, or otherwise adjusted, in order to bring out the necessary details or information about the crime that was committed. Most CCTV systems and their cameras have night vision that will record clear images of events as they occurred for forensic enhancement.

 

If you have a video that you question or need help understanding, please give me a call for a pro bono conversation. I apply my forensic expertise to cases in the United States and many countries around the globe. Any and all formats of audio and video accepted. Retainer agreement available on request; travel expenses will be quoted in advance excluding meal expenses and flat rate time for travel instead of hourly.

Click HERE to email your questions or

Call 800-647-4281 in the USA or +01-248-853-4091 Internationally.

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.

How To: CCTV Enhancement; Improve the Quality of My Video Evidence?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

CCTV_Evidence-1024x768 How To: CCTV Enhancement; Improve the Quality of My Video Evidence?You have a video and the quality is poor. You need to see the events recorded in the video more clearly than what is currently available. Chances are that your video is probably part of a court case and has a critical impact on the judge and jury better understanding the events as they originally occurred. Video is a very powerful tool and helps law enforcement display criminal activity in the courtroom. Video also helps keep businesses secure through the use of surveillance video. When a crime is committed and caught on CCTV video, video forensics experts can help clarify and enhance that video so the court and other litigators can see the events more clearly during the court proceeding. On the other hand, maybe you have an old video, like a wedding video that has aged and damaged from poor storage or became over heated on the dashboard of your car in the hot sun. Video forensic experts have the hardware and software tools available to restore that video to a playable condition in most situations. The success of the restoration, clarification and enhancement, depends on two things; how damaged the tape is and your expectations of what is possible. Many video recordings are too far gone for the forensic expert to properly restore. However, I have found over the years that experimenting with various restoration tools, hardware and software, in various combinations, yield results. You have to have a starting point to work from to achieve results. What may seem impossible can be very possible when using various tools in various combinations. If you have a video that needs the quality improved, call us for a pro bono consultation (800) 647-4281.

Video Forensic Expert Edward J Primeau Curriculum Vitae

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