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Posts Tagged ‘Video as Evidence’

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.

Expert Video Enhancement – A Matter of Life or Death

Friday, April 26th, 2013

1421018_91732563-1024x682 Expert Video Enhancement – A Matter of Life or DeathAs we have all witnessed from the recent Boston Bombings, having the technology and talent to accurately and clearly perform expert video enhancement. This is especially true when it comes to criminal forensic image clarification from surveillance security cameras.

A trained specialist using sophisticated software can make blurry or seemingly impossible-to-see images so clear that unique facial features are revealed, leading to positive identification of a suspect or criminal.

The FBI engaged a team of experts to enhance images of the two bombing suspects to the point of positive recognition.  As a result, several friends and family members of the suspects came forth, providing valuable information to the authorities.

Within 24 hours after the enhanced photos were released, suspect one was killed and suspect two was captured.   The power of video enhancement prevented an unknown amount of possible additional deaths by the two bombers. Watertown residents can feel safe in their homes once again.

At Primeau Forensics, we have a team of video forensic experts that employ the latest technology available to enhance surveillance video. We investigate video evidence that helps the court better see (and hear) the events as they occurred working closely and strategically with authorities like police or prosecutors as well as lawyers.

We have the technology and experience to acquire clear images, measure objects and suspects, and the ability to look for other clues in the surveillance video to aid in the litigation or criminal proceeding.

If you have any questions about video enhancement, give us a call for a pro bono consultation at (800) 647-4281

Four Tips on Hiring a Video Forensic Expert

Friday, November 4th, 2011

interview-1024x768 Four Tips on Hiring a Video Forensic ExpertAll video forensics experts are not created equal. However, more often than not, lawyers and private individuals shop for video experts by cost instead of by these four simple expert criteria. I have successfully completed cases where the opposing side in the litigation had their forensic expert removed from the trial because of mistakes or lack of credentials. In fact, I have experienced video editors attempt to classify themselves as video forensic experts in serious litigation only to let their clients down.

In addition, these video editors cast a shadow on the science of video forensics, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the legal community. This observation has motivated me to publish this article on the four tips of hiring a video forensic expert.

1. Make sure you need a video forensic expert (VCE) before retaining one. Many times the video evidence being submitted in litigation is good as a standalone exhibit and a video forensic expert is not needed. It is mostly the defense that is guilty of wasting money and complicating a case. Only hire a video expert if you believe that the video being used in your case may be altered or may not represent the facts as they occurred. The other way an expert can help is by authenticating the video if you feel it has been tampered with or has portions that were eliminated.

I was a forensic expert on a case where the defense believed the police had altered a video when in fact they did not. Think about it. Why would a police officer risk his entire career altering video evidence? An experienced forensic expert can tell if the video was altered no matter how well the perpetrator may have covered their tracks.

2. Look at the experience of successful cases completed for the forensic expert. How many times has the video expert testified at trial? What types of courts has the video forensic expert testified in? How many articles have they published in the forensic community? Are their methods accepted in the scientific community? Look at the broad scope of their experience and consider how your case fits into their experience.

3. How well do they communicate with you before you retain their expertise? If your personalities do not connect before you begin the investigation, it will only get worse. A good forensic expert will go above and beyond during the course of their service. You can expect to receive their CV (curriculum vita) before you retain them as well as have a pro bono conference call to discuss your case. Determine how they answer your questions on the phone and use that conversation to determine how they will be testifying. Do they communicate well or do they stumble on words and terms?

VFE’s should also be able to explain in plain English how your video evidence is relevant in your litigation. Judges and juries need video evidence simplified, not complicated. A good expert witness will be able to communicate clearly in 6th grade English the relevance of your video evidence.

4. Cost should always be an issue but never the deciding factor. A good expert witness is worth their weight in gold. Plus, those experts who are experienced will get more done in less time. They will also have integrity. That integrity will earn your trust faster than the depth of their experience.

Integrity is the ability to trust an expert witness and know they will be fair with their fee. If you ever feel a lack of trust, fire your expert and demand a refund. As a VFE, I always go above and beyond the call of duty. For me it’s not all about the money. It’s about reputation and integrity which hold up well over time. The cost you should expect to pay a video forensic expert is directly proportionate to their experience.

If any of these four tips seem out of place with an experience you have had or if video evidence was used in your litigation, I would like to hear from you. I learn from my clients as much as I help them. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Video Forensic Expert Edward J Primeau Curriculum Vitae

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