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Body Worn Cameras; More Safe than Dash Cam for Police

Tuesday, 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!

Boston Bombing and the Forensic Video Investigation

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

boston bombingIt is very obvious that we are vulnerable to attacks with little or no advance warning as exhibited in the recent bombing in Boston during the marathon. There are so far reported 176 casualties; 17 critical; 3 fatalities. Now the daunting task of forensic investigation must take place.

Part of the forensic investigation requires video forensic experts to review all city surveillance CCTV recordings to look for persons who may have contributed to this attack. Another forensic strategy is to gather smart phone video recordings and photographs from civilian spectators that were at the event.

The task of reviewing the surveillance digital video recordings is extremely labor intensive. I suspect there are dozens of municipal cameras that recorded events before, during, and after the bombs exploded in the surrounding areas. This activity is extremely important because if a suspect is discovered in the video, video forensic experts have tools available to help scientifically identify the suspect. We can measure height once we establish a scale of measurement for the video as well as clothing logos which also help in identification.

One central location should store all digital video recordings from the municipal CCTV system as well as individual civilian smart phones. The videos should be categorized by either geographic location or some other method of organization that allows easy reference and quick accessibility.

A few years back, the city of New York’s CCTV cameras caught images of a person who planted a bomb in a car in Time Square. That suspect was eventually apprehended and convicted because of the aid of the municipal CCTV video recordings that caught a glimpse of him walking away from the car.

As days progress with the Boston forensic investigation, expect video forensic experts to discover clues that will aid authorities with other forensic information and evidence to eventually apprehend those persons involved in this tragedy.

The Importance of Communication during the Forensic Investigation

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

communication during forensic investigationAs a video forensic expert, I communicate with many people before, during and after a forensic investigation. Understanding the attorney and client’s expectations are extremely important for business and customer relations. Helping both understand the video forensic investigation process at the same time is also very important.

Not only do video forensic experts communicate on the phone, we also communicate with text and email. The most important thing to remember about email is that unlike telephone conversations, text and email has permanency. Email and text messages can be shared with other people and become tools in the litigation.

Before beginning any forensic investigation, I always ask my client and attorney how they would like to receive communication and updates about my investigation. This is a best practice for me for many reasons. First, because the attorney is often a sole practitioner and spends a lot of time in court, I do my best to accommodate their schedule. Many times I provide my cell number to them so they can communicate with me at their convenience. Depending on the state or country, attorneys know better (based on their geographic location) how to and not to communicate, especially when it comes to text and email messages.

Also, when communicating with clients directly or opposing side expert witnesses, it is best to communicate aurally via telephone. That way there is not an unintentional paper trail that is not managed by the attorney. This written communication could eventually become part of the litigation procedure. As a general rule, it’s best to keep the forensic investigation as clean and free from superfluous communication as possible.

Bottom line, from a forensic experts perspective, understand your clients expectations about communication and be aware that anything in written form can become part of the litigation process. Keep your communication simple just like when testifying.

Video Forensics and Post-Litigation Responsibility

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

post litigationAs a video forensic expert I’m seeing more and more video evidence in criminal and civil litigation today. I examine the evidence, often having to identify elements in video recordings, creating images that are exported from the video recording, which are identified frames from the video that reveal details that are important to the litigation, and then enlarging the resolution and dots per inch in that video frame export to help identify logos on clothing, or license plate numbers, or make and model of cars or the year of a car to help identify who the subject in the video might be.

The work product that I build while conducting an investigation as a video forensic expert increases in size the longer the litigation continues. Upon completion of a criminal case or a settlement agreement by the parties involved in a civil litigation, the forensic expert must contact their client – whether it be the court, law enforcement or a lawyer, and ask them what should be done with the original evidence that was investigated as well as the work product that was created during the investigation. It is best, if possible, to get their instructions in writing (particularly if the instructions are to destroy the evidence and work product), just to protect yourself and make sure all your bases are covered.

The reason this is so crucial is because often one of the terms of a settlement is the destruction of all of the evidence that was used during the litigation. Should this evidence become compromised, accidentally, by anyone involved in the case, that would ruin the terms of the settlement for the parties in the litigation.

It is my responsibility, as a video forensic expert, to contact my client and ask what they want me to do with the evidence with which I was provided, as well as the work product, once the litigation is settled. In my opinion, there are two ways for the forensic examiner to release the work product and the original evidence that was worked on during the investigation.

Number one, return all of the evidence and your work product to the attorney, using delivery confirmation, with signature required.

The second way is destroying all of the evidence if that is what your client wants you to do. And by destroying the evidence I mean deleting all of the files that are on any internal and external hard drives on the computer that was used during the investigation, or destroying any compact discs or DVDs by breaking them in half or scratching the playing surfaces.

It’s very important for the forensic examiner to keep good notes during the investigation process so there is a paper trail of where all the media files the investigator worked on during the forensic investigation are stored so the expert knows where to go back to delete all of the work product and original evidence if there was no external evidence used.

The main purpose for external evidence – such as a DVD or CD-ROM – is because during a trial exhibit stickers must be placed on everything that is going to be entered as evidence. Otherwise, files can remain electronic through the investigative process except when meta data is crucial as part of the investigation.

Forensic experts know that sending audio or video digital files electronically over the Internet can often strip meta data off of original recordings inhibiting the forensic expert’s identification.

Either way, the purpose of the message I am trying to convey in this blog post is the importance of returning or destroying all evidence and work product after a case is determined or a settlement is reached. This is a practice that is not talked about enough in the forensic community and is extremely important for all forensic experts – audio, video or otherwise – to keep in mind.

Video Evidence in an Advanced Technology World

Friday, November 16th, 2012

advanced technologyWhen I receive a video recording that is evidence to be used in litigation there are several activities, as a video forensic expert, that I employ during the video investigation. First, watching the file in its entirety, viewing the contents of that video, is important for the forensic expert examination and investigation process to completely understand what has been recorded and is being presented to the court. Secondly, whether I’m working for the defense or the prosecution I must understand the charges and how this video evidence relates to the charges being brought, whether it’s a civil or criminal litigation.

Oftentimes, I discover sections of the video evidence that the prosecutor or attorney has not considered with regard to the relevance to the litigation. Not only do I follow orders and respect what I have been asked to do, such as brighten the video so that we can see better if it was shot at night, or zoom in to see if we can determine what type of vehicle that was that drove by, or determine if we can sharpen and enlarge that portion of the video so that we can identify who that person is that committed that crime. All of these processes need to be documented in my work product as a video forensic expert in order to present my final enhanced or clarified video evidence in court. Oftentimes I’m asked to authenticate a video file. As part of the defense’s due process their client will tell them they believe the police have altered a video file. In my nearly 30 years of practicing as a video forensic expert I’ve only seen a couple different applications of videos being altered. Sure, it’s possible – but it’s also very unlikely because, when you think about it, why would an officer of the law risk their career, reputation and retirement and alter a piece of evidence intentionally in order to convict. It’s not logical, and it doesn’t make sense … but I have seen it happen and it is possible. So the authentication process is probably one of the primary activities that I perform as a video forensic expert. And as I’m authenticating the evidence and I understand what the case is about I discover other components to the video that can help in the litigation process. That is part of what I do as a video forensic expert.

The tools that are available to the forensic community today are much more advanced and can perform faster and more accurately than the tools that were used even a couple of years ago. So cases that have been tried and are on appeal can use new evidence as part of the appeal process, because, in my opinion, being able to increase the brightness on a section of video more accurately, or enlarge it with less pixilation and more clear imaging we have created a piece of evidence that was not available during the original trial. So in that particular case a video forensic expert can help with the appeal process. And I have worked for several appellate attorneys over the years. There is an ever-increasing amount of video evidence that is appearing in litigation today and the demand for a video forensic expert to be able to authenticate, validate, clarify and present, as well as prepare demonstrative sections of that evidence is extremely important. By demonstrative, I mean to slow down and enlarge a section of video evidence in order to be able to more clearly and accurately see the events as they occurred. Plus, by adding this demonstrative element to the video evidence it allows the judge and jury to more accurately see what previously wasn’t seen on the video recording.

Forensic Tools: Keep It Basic While Keeping Up-To-Date

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

forensic toolsAs a video forensic expert, I am very aware of the many software tools that are available for examining and authenticating video evidence which will be used in litigation. Some of the software is extremely advanced and requires a thorough understanding of technology in order to be able to use these tools. They’re great, and many of them perform tasks that were never possible before in the video forensic community. However, I keep my eye on the simplicity of my results and conclusions when testifying in court. There’s one thing judges and juries don’t need, and that is a complicated conclusion from a forensic expert. Based on my 28+ years working as an audio and video forensic expert, I understand how important it is to keep my findings simple and to the point when testifying in court. I think it’s a big mistake for forensic experts to use complicated reports and test results in court that judges and juries don’t understand. They need to know, based on your experience, what your opinion is in regard to the evidence in question, and that’s it —they do not need to know how detailed the investigation was that you conducted. Instead, briefly discuss in your report the processes and procedures that you used to arrive at your conclusions. Judges and juries just want to know, “Was the video edited?” “Is the video authentic?” “Can you identify the people and the characters in the video?” “Are you working for the defense or are you working for the prosecution?” Either way, your report will exemplify your experience, credibility and ability to arrive at a conclusion and be able to support that conclusion during cross examination.

So going forward, I will continue to learn about all of the software tools that are available to me as a video forensic expert, but will also take into account the necessity of keeping my findings simple. I believe these forensic tools will help me do a better job going forward as I determine which ones to bring into our lab and which ones to avoid. Knowing the basics, the basic tools and the way they operate is critical as closed-circuit television footage and body camera recordings become more prominent in litigation. Keeping up with technology is one of the most important tasks of the video forensic expert and it’s gaining an increasing focus from the forensic field.

Description: Video forensic experts need to keep up with technology while keeping the descriptions of their findings simple.

Best Practices for Digital Media Evidence and Digital Video Forensic Evidence

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

digital videoA video forensic expert begins all investigations by asking the client attorney a few questions. First, how did they acquire the video evidence in their possession? Second, what is the relevance of this digital video evidence to their case? Third, what was the chain of custody for this digital video evidence?

One of the best practices of a forensic video expert is to determine if the video evidence is an exact representation of the facts as they occurred at the time of the recording. In order to do this, the experienced video expert must know how the digital video evidence was created. For example, was the video recorded on a closed circuit television system? Who was responsible for exporting the copy that has been provided for examination? This is a particularly important question because the integrity of that copy is proportionate to the experience of the person who removed it from that closed circuit television system.

If the video evidence is on a portable media device, such as a CD-ROM disc, a DVD-ROM disc or an external hard drive or thumb drive, then we know beyond a reasonable degree of certainty that that digital video was removed from the original security surveillance system or digital video recorder (DVR). It’s not a problem working from a copy as long as both sides in the litigation understand and agree to the authenticity of that copy. However, whenever there is a doubt as to the authenticity of that digital video on that external media, then the original digital video recording must be examined in its native environment, which is the original digital video recorder that is part of the closed circuit television system.

When an export copy video from a closed circuit television system is used in courts without debate, both sides in the litigation agreed that this export copy  is an actual representation of the facts as they occurred. Because of this, there was no dispute as to whether or not it was an original because it didn’t matter. The digital format, when cloning, is technically all considered “originals” because of the digital formatting. In other words, it’s all “Xs and Os” and meta data that has been transferred from a digital video recorder or computer hard drive. Just like when making copies of a compact disc for a friend, the copy, if done properly, sounds just as good as the original. But I digress. When there’s a dispute over the contents of an exported digital video recording and the original has to be sought to approve and display the facts as they occurred, the video forensic expert’s job is now to go back to the source that created the digital video recording and obtain a copy of it through supervised procedures of exporting. That way the forensic expert and both parties in the litigation have no dispute as to whether or not that digital video recording is authentic and true.

Oftentimes the original video recording is no longer available because of the time that it takes for cases to rotate in court. As a forensic video expert I often receive evidence copies for authentication, examination, clarification and restoration up to a year—and even two years—after they were recorded. When there’s doubt to the integrity of this video evidence and the original is no longer available because of the “first in, first out” operation of closed circuit television systems, then it’s the forensic video expert’s job to find clues within that digital video recording to help process the litigation.

When working in a Windows-based PC forensic laboratory, I have discovered that some of the closed circuit television exports do not play properly, if at all, on the Windows 7 operating system. This is why we have older versions of Windows operating systems in our laboratory. It’s a best practice of a forensic expert to be prepared for any situation in order to conduct a proper video forensic investigation.

Occasionally the forensic video expert must use screen capture technology in order to retain a portion of the closed circuit television recording for clarification purposes. Recording a portion of the closed circuit television video using screen capture technology allows me to create a file format that is suitable for forensic investigation. Closed circuit television systems record video using a proprietary format that is native to the original operating system of the digital video recorder. This is why the footage is considered secure, and authentic—because it was recorded in an “armored car” environment. This security often interferes with a video forensic investigation because, depending on the source of the copy that has been given to the forensic examiner, the proper CODECS may not be available to the forensic expert in order to view that surveillance footage. Therefore, one of the first activities that a forensic expert does in that situation is to try to find the CODECS proprietary to that surveillance system in order to get one of the Windows operating systems to play that video footage for examination. Once the video forensic expert plays and views the original footage using the proper CODEC, a screen capture software program is used to create a new file of that surveillance video. Once that new video footage has been created, the digital video is then imported into a forensic video software program for investigation, authentication, clarification, restoration or any other activity necessary to help process the litigation. Of course, the forensic video expert records their process, which is accepted in the scientific community and aids the forensic video expert in compiling a report at the conclusion of their investigation.

All of these activities are best practices of a forensic video expert. With technology changing faster than ever, it is the forensic video expert’s job to be able to know where to go to find answers to difficult situations caused by lack of understanding of the originator of the video evidence. Sometimes security personnel who export the original video evidence from the closed circuit television system are not aware of the fact that in order to view that digital footage, the player or the software must be embedded on the media where the file is being transferred to. Instead, security personnel sometimes just export one of the digital video files from the closed circuit television system without realizing a specific CODEC is necessary for future viewing of that footage.

As a scientific community we are always learning additional best practices for examining digital media evidence. I welcome any feedback or communication from anyone who reads this post and has a comment about any of their best practices experiences or anything that has been written in this blog post.

What Makes a Great Expert Witness?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

expert witnessFor many years I have been working on, investigating and testifying in video forensic cases around the world. As a result, I’ve come up with a list of qualities that I believe all great expert witnesses must possess.

Obviously, a great expert must be an expert or have a lot of experience in their area of expertise. My career in video started back in high school when I was selected by the TV department to be the custodian, if you will, of all of the television systems within our high school. And back then half-inch recording tape was on an open reel – they hadn’t even invented VHS cassette tapes yet. That tells you how long ago that was!

The second quality that a great expert witness must possess is character. If you have the right character and the right personality, then you will always be respected and trusted by litigators, judges and juries. I believe integrity is one of the most important qualities that any successful expert witness should possess because it’s that character that earns you respect as an expert witness.

The next quality that I believe an expert witness should have is confidence. When you get on the stand to testify, the first litigator that starts to ask questions is usually the person that you’re working for, so you go right down the line of your expertise to be entered as an expert witness into that litigation, in that court and qualified as an expert witness. Then you answer the questions of what you were asked to do, what you did, how you did it and the types of things that are accepted in the scientific community to help qualify your opinion. Then, of course, you end with your opinion. Then the opposing counsel gets up and starts to cross-examine. That’s when your confidence really needs to shine because that opposing counsel will do the best that they can to create doubt about your qualifications as an expert and to make you look less confident. Sometimes that nervous energy that you can feel during that cross examination can help break down your confidence, and that will diminish your character and cause the jury and the judge to start to doubt your ability. It’s very import to concentrate on your confidence and stay in that “confident zone” especially when you are on the stand, as well as during every conversation with all litigators prior to testifying.

Another quality I believe an expert witness must possess is the mastery of dialogue: the ability to speak with a good vocabulary and to know the words you should use when you’re delivering on the stand under oath. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years—after testifying dozens of times all over the country—is to take pauses as you’re gathering your next thought. When you’re nervous it’s human nature to stutter or say “um” between words. However, you will come across as much more of a professional if you pause instead of saying superfluous words like “um” or “uh,” and take your time when answering the question. And if you don’t understand the question, don’t try to talk just to talk. Ask the litigator to repeat the question to you so that you can completely understand what they’re asking and know how to answer it using the best dialogue possible.

The last quality I believe a great expert witness should possess is the ability to know when to talk and when to listen. Oftentimes during heated discussions – which often happens on the stand – the expert witness could get their adrenalin accelerated because of the cross examination. During that rapid-fire dialogue it’s best to just relax and let the litigator vent or finish their accelerated questioning. I often will wait and count to five after the litigator is done talking before I say anything, because that allows the energy in the courtroom to dissipate a little bit before you calmly answer the question, or say the next thing that you’re about to say. If you start to step on words you continue to increase the anxiety and the aggravation within the litigator and that dialogue exchange does not come across as professional. As an expert witness, you should always come across as professional, especially when you’re on the stand testifying.

I’d like any expert witnesses who read this blog post to share some other qualities and character traits that they feel expert witnesses should possess. You can tweet me at Ed_Primeau, or you can comment at the end of this blog post. I’d love to hear from you.

Accident Reconstruction Video

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

accident reconstruction How To Best Capture and Recreate the Accident for the Jury/Court

After producing several accident reconstruction videos in my career as a video forensic expert, I have made observations about what works and what doesn’t work in the courtroom. I would like to share some tips with you so that you can avoid problems and best capture your external environment and bring it in to court.

Accident reconstruction video brings the accident site into the courtroom so the jury can see what the site looks like and how the accident occurred. Here are four tips to help you bring the best video into the courtroom:

1)      Try not to add demonstrative features to your video, like graphics or animation, without a reference point or an accurate scale. These demonstrative characteristics—especially animation—diminish the authenticity of the video footage.

2)      Shoot both wide shots and tight shots of the scene. When designing your shot sheet, make sure to include every angle and perspective so the judge and jury feel like they were actually there and actually witnessed the accident.

3)      Always record more footage than you will need for your accident recreation video presentation.

4)      Keep original source files with all original footage on them so the opposing counsel can examine and authenticate them.

I have had cases where the opposing counsel had video recorded that was not used in the accident reconstruction video on DVD. When the missing footage was discovered, it was detrimental to their case. In this situation, the accident reconstruction video worked against the opposing counsel.

3 Tips for Preparing Video Evidence for Court

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

courtroomOver the last 28 years I have worked on many video forensic cases as a video forensic expert. This blog post is about the top three things I have learned and want to share with you about preparing your video evidence for use in court.
Number one: document and maintain a chain of custody on the video evidence.  Too often there is no chain of custody maintained on video evidence. The lack of a chain of custody makes it hard for all parties in any litigation to understand the purpose and authenticity of the video evidence.

Number two: always use the original digital video file for any litigation. If you are not sure if it’s the original or if you believe it has been altered, then it is not considered the original and you must go back to the source that recorded the footage in order to confirm.  Bottom line: if both parties in the litigation agree on the video evidence and consider it original, you are okay.  Only when there is a disagreement should you go back to the recording source and compare that recording to the video evidence.

Number three: make sure your video plays on the equipment that is used in the court. Many attorneys will enter a court room with a piece of video evidence and not realize that the court is not equipped to play the type of digital video file that the evidence has been presented in. It never hurts to rehearse your presentation of the video evidence before it is finally presented in court. 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?

There are many other factors to consider when using your video evidence in litigation, but these are the top three in my opinion.  Ask a video forensic expert for help because your evidence can be removed from your case if it is not prepared and presented properly or if there is doubt on the authenticity.

photo credit: St Georges Hall Court Room via photopin (license)