Doorbell video cameras are becoming increasingly popular in neighborhoods across the country. Not only are they reasonably priced, but they are easy to install and operate, giving individuals and families additional surveillance for their homes. However, these cameras have their drawbacks. Their low-quality video recordings can prove problematic should attempts be made to forensically enhance footage. Let’s take a closer look at how doorbell video cameras provide evidentiary support and the advantages and disadvantages you should be aware of before purchasing these security measures for your home.
DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS AS EVIDENCE
According to Government Technology Magazine, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that doorbell video cameras had reduced neighborhood burglaries in 2015 by as much as 55 percent in seven months (Shedlock, 2019)[i].
In 2019, our lab saw a significant increase in the number of cases utilizing evidence via doorbell video cameras. We are currently working on a case with crucial video evidence from a camera that captured a murder suspect. Although we can see the perpetrator from the neighbor’s doorbell video camera, we are unable to make an identification.
PROS OF DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS
As previously mentioned, doorbell video cameras are both affordable and easy to install. They connect through wifi and are accessible from your mobile device anywhere, anytime. These cameras help identify the knock at your door and deter “porch pirates” from stealing packages.
Doorbell cameras not only record video, but they can record audio as well. And based on our experience, there has been greater success in forensically enhanced audio rather than video. We currently have an active case that was originally ruled as a suicide but is now under investigation as a murder. Forensically enhanced audio revealed additional information and as a result, the investigation has been re-opened with a new case strategy.
Several manufacturers have recently released 4K resolution technology in doorbell cameras. Although our lab has not worked with 4K resolution footage yet, we anticipate there will be a dramatic increase in the success rate of forensic video enhancements due to the higher quality of video they will provide.
CONS OF DOORBELL VIDEO CAMERAS
One drawback of forensically enhancing doorbell video cameras is the amount of compression that occurs as a result of the operational structure. The video portion of these recordings can become highly compressed for a number of reasons. These include low-strength wifi connection, the use of cloud storage, and the limitations of the system settings. Compression reduces the quality of the video, especially at a distance, making it difficult to clearly see the events as they occurred.
Although it is convenient to connect these systems to your home wifi, it makes the video vulnerable to hackers that try to learn your day-to-day behavior.
According to CNet, researchers have found that doorbell cameras had vulnerability leaking wifi login information and could give hackers access to your account allowing them to stream and send messages to the user in an attempt to deceive.
“It had been sending this sensitive information over an unencrypted network, which meant that anyone viewing that network could have seen your username and password for your Wi-Fi. The potential hacker would have to be within a range of your Wi-Fi to carry out this attack.” [ii]
SINGLE VS MULTI VANTAGE POINT
When using doorbell cameras, there is only one camera view with one vantage point, limiting their effectiveness. CCTV systems, on the other hand, have multiple camera views with more than one vantage point. This means that more areas are covered in the video recordings which presents more options for forensic enhancement to the forensic video technician.
CCTV systems have multiple cameras installed that are typically out of reach, making it difficult for anyone to steal or damage them. Doorbell cameras, however, are mounted in closer ranges that are easy to access and susceptible to damage or theft.
BEFORE YOU BUY
There are many makes and manufacturers of doorbell video cameras. Our research has pointed us to PC Magazine, which featured the article The Best Video Doorbells for 2020 [iii]. Happy DIY Home also shared their top wireless doorbell choices for residential use [iv]. We recommend doing some research before purchasing a doorbell camera and consider home surveillance (CCTV system) as an option.
Browse our website for more information on forensic video enhancement and contact us with any questions.
The following information on how to record police officers was gathered by the Primeau Forensics’ research team. Our goal is to answer the question, ‘Do citizens have a right to video record police officers?’
To best answer this question, we surveyed police officers, law enforcement leadership, concerned citizens, and attorneys to present their answers. What is more, concerned citizens can actually assist police officers when using proper video recording methods. Always remember, everyone’s safety is a top priority.
The specific details expressed in this post are based primarily on Michigan law. However, the information we have gathered and presented in this article is universal. If you are reading outside the United States of America, consider laws enforced in your community or jurisdiction.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHT TO VIDEO RECORD POLICE
The Department of Homeland Security has a saying; ‘If you see something say something.’ Our philosophy is, ‘If you see something, film something.’
A concerned citizen has a legal right to video record police officers and can do so in public places. However, they cannot video record in a manner in which they interfere with the event or investigation. This includes video recording too close within the officer’s tactical operating area. Again, safety is a priority.
Interference to an investigation diverts the police officers’ attention and reduces their focus. In other words, does the police officer consider that you are interfering with the investigation at that time? If an officer warns you during a video recording, adjust your approach, where you’re standing, and what you’re filming.
Be aware that an officer may have a tremendous amount on his or her mind. As a result, they may be in a heightened sense of awareness from the current or previous incident. Keep this in mind when you are video recording police officers.
YOUR RIGHT TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS
If you are a witness, write down your name and number for the police officer and mention 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. Some witnesses whose employment may require them to present their recordings and statements to assist a police officer. These include nurses, social workers, security officers, paramedics, and first responders.
Whether you record an event or an eyewitness, you could be ordered to appear in court. You may even be asked to give a statement.
THE IMPORTANCE OF REMAINING UNBIASED
It is critical to remain unbiased while recording police officers. In order to protect the integrity of the investigation and those involved, record the entire event. We find that some witnesses focus on the police officer only. Pointing the camera directly at the officer introduces bias and makes the video recording difficult to view in its entirety.
Record the entire interaction of all parties. Don’t find offense in the police officer telling you to back up or to move away. Another article that may help in understanding how best to prepare digital evidence can be found on the blog.
CONTACT FORENSIC EXPERTS
The guidelines for how to video record police officers safely are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website. Finally, contact the Primeau Forensic’s team for more information or questions on your legal right to record police officers. Learn more about techniques with which to video record police in our next blog post.
In this post, we share several techniques for video recording police officers safely and respectfully. These follow our discussion on the legality of recording law enforcement, which you can explore by following the link. Because these encounters often involve smartphone recordings, the following methodology focuses on that medium. Follow along for deeper insight into these techniques.
THE RISE OF THE SMARTPHONE
Statistics show that 77% of Americans use a smartphone. Additionally, more apps are brought to the market every day that make recording and sharing videos simple. It comes as no surprise that an average of 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
What does that have to do with video recording police officers and video forensics? Citizens are capturing both criminal activity and law enforcement interactions with their smartphones.
These videos become an integral part of the investigation. And unfortunately, there are forensic enhancement limitations for poor video quality. The following techniques for recording police officers will help you acquire the best recording possible.
5 TECHNIQUES FOR RECORDING POLICE
TECHNIQUE #1: STABLE FOOTAGE
Try to stay calm and focus on keeping the camera steady. Don’t zoom in too much on the subject to where your camera is unable to properly autofocus. Also, be sure to keep a safe distance. Should the video need additional zooming, it can be forensically enhanced.
TECHNIQUE #2: LANDSCAPE MODE
Always film in landscape mode. It offers a wider view and provides investigators with valuable information, such as point of entry, outside factors, and other surroundings. Additionally, filming in landscape mode provides a clearer image for forensic experts.
TECHNIQUE #3: DO NOT ESCALATE SITUATION
If you feel like you are too close to the situation, step back. Safety for you and everyone else is most important.
Also, don’t feel the need to use any equipment more than your smartphone. As technology advances, smartphone cameras are advancing with it. Most smartphones use a 1080p resolution, which is sufficient for forensic enhancement.
TECHNIQUE #4: HAND OFF VIDEO TO PROPER AUTHORITIES BEFORE EDITING OR UPLOADING
Don’t alter the video in anyway. Alteration includes shortening the video, using apps or software to enhance the video or audio, or adding effects. All of these adjustments affect the chain of custody and the forensic expert’s ability to identify or authenticate the video.
Chain of custody refers to the order in which evidence should be handled by persons investigating a case. Specifically, the unbroken trail of accountability ensuring the physical security of samples, data, and records in a criminal investigation.
We have all seen viral videos on social media or news outlets of criminal activity or law enforcement interactions. However, it is imperative that the investigation be complete before a video is made public. Posting the video online could give suspects important details that could hinder the investigation and put lives at risk. It is important to remember that what you film could affect people’s lives.
TECHNIQUE #5: REMAIN UNBIASED
While you may be emotionally invested in the situation, it is crucial that the video evidence be unbiased. In order for the investigation to be as accurate as possible, investigators need to see the event in its entirety.
Begin filming as soon as possible and continue until the interaction is finalized. Another good idea is to use multiple cameras when available. Not only does this provide multiple viewpoints, but also multiple versions of the recording for the best possible outcome.
BE MINDFUL AND RESPECTFUL
If you are filming an interaction with law enforcement, be mindful and respectful of the officer’s tactical operating area. Take the appropriate measures to speak directly with an officer’s supervisor if concerned with their actions. And if the officer asks you to back up, they do it for your safety. It is always best to work with the officer and not against them.
Also, keep in mind that the officer may be in a heightened state of emotion from a previous incident. As Barrack Obama once said, “Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.”
CONTACT FORENSIC EXPERTS
The guidelines for how to video record police officers safely are based primarily on Michigan case law. For more information, visit the Michigan legislature website. Contact the Primeau Forensic’s team for more information or questions on the techniques for video recording police officers discussed here. And learn more on your legal right to video record police on our previous blog post.
Record on your Smart Phone Video Horizontally or LandscapeWhen 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 EnhancementThe 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 recorded events as they occurred.
The Science of Forensic Video EnhancementThe 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. Reduced video quality occurs when you zoom in and has to do with pixels. Simply put, pixels are the small boxes of color code that combine to make up a given image. Each image is 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.
Why a Forensic Expert is NecessaryThis 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. Video quality has not been comprised. 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 0:25 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.
Original VideoAlways 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 SoftwareUse 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 CorrectionPerform a color correction process first before performing any other forensic enhancement process. This is especially important if your video recording is dark. Be careful not to add too much brightness.
EnlargementIf 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.
EquipmentIt is good to know 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. Have further questions on how can forensic video enhancement help investigators? Call us for a consultation on your video that needs forensic enhancement 800.647.4281
Frequency Analysis:In the image above, the spectrogram reading shows the cutoff frequency of the gunshots well above the cutoff frequency of the noise floor (background noise, radio chatter & siren). Shown below, a display of the difference in frequency content between the gunshots and background noise. Red vertical sections represent gunshots. The audio’s cutoff frequency from the YouTube video titled ‘Is this the audio Chicago Police dash cam video of Laquan McDonald shooting?’ is roughly 16 kHz. Displayed below, the audio’s cutoff frequency from the YouTube video at 16 kHz. Audio recorded evidence produced from law enforcement vehicles contains a cutoff frequency of 4 kHz. I examined the frequency analysis of the original video that lacks audio. The cutoff frequency analysis of the original audio portion is 4 kHz and displayed below: Based on forensic testing and analysis, I can confidently say that an unknown party manufactured and added the audio portion in the second YouTube video after the fact. The original video contains recorded audio content of cross-talk and engine noise (see above image). The audible noises within the original video recording have low amplitude. However, they are heard with a significant increase in volume. Because this digital recorder in the police car recorded audio track, I believe the recorder was functional. Due to the lack of officer dialogue and radio chatter, we believe the on-person lavalier microphone within the vehicle was muted, disconnected, or deactivated.
Inauthentic Audio ResultsThe gunshots and radio chatter heard throughout the YouTube video titled ‘Is this the audio Chicago Police dash cam video of Laquan McDonald shooting?’ are duplicated, equalized, and not authentic. I previously discussed the inconsistency between the cutoff frequency of the gunshots and the background noise. In addition, the audible fingerprint of the gunshots within the spectrogram has a distinct shape, size, and intensity that are consistent with duplication or repetition. The frequency decay of the gunshot, sound of the gunshot, as well as duration of the sound are almost identical. See image below for gunshot sounds. The radio chatter sample at timecode 0:04.387 (MM:SS:MS) is an exact duplicate of 0:03.000 (MM:SS:MS). And so, the conversation being spoken is identical. The differnece is that the duplicate has been processed using equalization to deceive the listener into believing it is radio conversation. The Laquan McDonald police video with audio is indeed fake.
Dash Camera Surveillance Systems Record Video and AudioVideo surveillance systems, or closed circuit video recording systems, keep a pre-determined area under security. Not all video surveillance systems record audio. Video surveillance systems in many department stores do not record audio, while those in gas stations, convenience stores and banks often do. Police car dash cam surveillance systems record both audio and video for further officer protection and to deter profiling.
Video Surveillance Systems include Audio RecordingThe 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 released thus far, you hear electronic noise. The digital video recorder in the squad car recorded audio, though no audio signal was being sent to the recorder. Was this a technical glitch or did the officers not activate their body microphones? Perhaps they were all muted? Was there a problem downloading the digital recordings from each police car? Who maintains chain of custody logs for handling this evidence? In an interview for the Associated Press, our lead digital media forensic expert, Ed Primeau, comments on the lack of audio from multiple police cars being a red flag. Additioanlly, fellow forensic expert Gregg Stuchman comments in a second interview for the Associated Press, “It’s plausible for a single squad car to have a glitch preventing sound recording.” Then 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 Need for a Forensic InvestigationFurthermore, a forensic investigation performed by a neutral, independent forensic expert can determine the reason for the absence of police dialogue and radio communication in the Laquan McDonald shooting. Primeau Foresnics has examined thousands of police dash cam systems. Some include audio, others do not. There are three methods of activating dash cam video and audio.
- The officer activates the recording manually.
- The squad car reaches a certain, predetermined speed for recording to begin.
- The video records when the squad car flashers activate.