In the last few years, Primeau Forensics has seen an increase in cases that involve surveillance video, including body camera video recordings. This digital video evidence is very important in order of investigators and the trier of fact to understand events as they occurred.
BODY WORN CAMERA USAGE GROWS
An increase in activity began in 2013 when body worn cameras helped locate and identify the Boston Marathon Bombers. FBI investigators culled through hundreds of hours of CCTV video surveillance recordings in order to identify the terrorists that responsible for these acts of violence.
Video evidence is expanding to include body worn cameras implemented into many police agencies across the United States. At this point in time, agencies around the country are testing different makes of body cameras and learning how to properly integrate them into their procedures. Many have been transparent with their testing and have begun to approve funding for additional cameras.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan Police Department recently tested two different kinds of body worn cameras among its officers. Following their positive feedback, the city approved funding for two hundred additional cameras. The Seattle, Washington Police Department has also been very open about their body camera testing. They even released testing footage online for public view. The public has been pushing for police worn body cameras since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August.
BENEFITS OF BODY WORN CAMERAS
Body worn cameras protect everyone; police officers and citizens alike. Many police agencies fully support camera use because they reduce the questioning of events during an altercation. If a disagreement comes against an officer, internal affairs can check the body camera video and see the events as they occurred. Police agencies believe this will be very helpful with training officers and improving the relationship between the public and police.
The biggest issue arising from the increase in body worn cameras is the amount of data being created. Video evidence requires a very large amount of secure storage. Thankfully, many companies providing these cameras also include proprietary software. This ensures the evidence remains unaltered between the camera and the system. Only authorized personnel have access to the video to maintain the authenticity and safety of the video evidence.
FORENSIC ADVANTAGES OF BODY WORN CAMERAS
As video forensic experts, we see many benefits to this increase in body worn cameras. We have worked on numerous cases in which evidence from these cameras greatly helped the investigation and proceeding trial. Police dash cameras have often been used as evidence, but they fail to the capture the entire altercation because of their stationary view. Police body worn cameras add a second perspective used along with the dash cam which can be invaluable to an investigation. Having two angles provides a better picture of what happened.
All video recordings submitted as evidence in a civil or criminal litigation must have an established chain of custody that supports the events and provides integrity for the digital video evidence. We also encourage you to review our series on How to Properly Record a Police Officer.
The more video becomes available, the more real life situations enter the courtroom. Not to mention, the quality of body-worn cameras is improving to the point that video forensic enhancement is not necessary.
BODY WORN CAMERA RECORDS MURDER
For example, a department-issued body-worn camera recently captured events leading up to an officer’s murder in Flagstaff, Arizona. If the suspect hadn’t gone on to commit suicide, he could have stood trial to claim innonence in the incident. In this case, the video would save thousands of dollars that would have been spent investigating the officer’s death.
PRIMEAU FORENSICS TESTS BODY WORN CAMERAS
Primeau Forensics recently worked with VIEVU, a manufacturer based out of Seattle, Washington, to help in the research and development of their body-worn cameras. VIEVU sells its cameras to more than 4,000 police agencies in 16 countries. Our team helped them test the field of view (FOV) for their cameras. Additionally, we researched the various FOV options to learn the optimal lens degree in field situations.
APPROVED FUNDING FOR POLICE DEPARTMENTS
President Obama recently proposed a bill to provide police department for the purchase of body-worn cameras. The proposal includes $75 million to help pay for 50,000 of the lapel-mounted cameras, with state and local governments paying half the cost. This proposal came shortly after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. What is more, this is a crucial development in forensic video. These cameras help litigators learn more about a series of events that occurred, a reality that excites video forensic experts like ourselves. Most importantly, this has the ability to save our judicial system money and ensure a correct decision in a person’s guilt or innocence.
After 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!
ADVANTAGES OF BODY WORN CAMERAS AND VIDEO EVIDENCE
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. Therefore, nothing is as revealing as video to clearly show the court exactly what happened.
If the officer involved in the Michael Brown shooting, Darren Wilson, had a body 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.
For example, in the video embedded below, courtesy of ABC News, we see two pieces of evidence. First, footage of a confrontation taken from the dash-cam. Second, 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 camera, however, tells a completely different story.
The white Kia in the driveway blocks the event that takes place at 1:53 of the video. 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.
REVOLUTIONIZING THE COURT SYSTEM
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. That means 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. In addition, the digital signature security ensures that the video footage is tamper-proof while on the device.
In conclusion, 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. However, 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!
Giving the VIEVU LE2 my highest recommendation is easy. It is, without a doubt, the best wearable personal surveillance camera I have encountered in 25+ years as a video forensics investigator. Developed by police for police, this unit gets it all right; size, shape, weight, operation, picture quality, sound quality, date & time stamp, capacity, convenient downloading, storage, management, and digital signature security.
Advantages to Video Recordings
Obtaining a video recording of events at a traffic stop, pedestrian stop, crime scene, or call for assistance is most important. A video that captures the point of view of the officer is invaluable as a record of all an officer’s activities. Not only does it protect officers and citizens, but it holds all parties accountable. Videos are also introduced as an evidentiary recording in a court of law. Put simply, having some kind of recording is always better than having no recording at all. I would choose the VIEVU over a fixed vehicle cam or handheld camcorder every time. Unobtrusive, reliable, and easy to operate, I look forward to the time when every police officer in the country wears a VIEVU.
Challenges of Video Recordings as an Expert Witness
Testifying as an expert witness, I’m most often challenged by the opposition attorneys in the chain of custody and findings. Years of experience lend confidence in my analysis of the evidentiary video recording. Issues arising from authenticity and chain of custody are more challenging.
I am not always the person who retrieves the recording. That means that I must rely upon the record-keeping of others to establish an unbroken chain of custody, a paper or digital trail that accounts for every individual who had the recording in his or her possession up until I receive it and thereafter.
VIEVU solves this problem with its VERIPATROL VidLock Security Suite. The software utilizes a FIPS 140-2 (Federal Information Processing Standard) compliant digital signature, which guarantees the recording’s authenticity and integrity. This cryptographic standard ensures the authorship of the recording and that it remains unedited.
The LE2 records at 640 x 480, standard definition, but with an important difference. Under forensic examination, most standard definition video is actually 640 x 240, because each frame of video is made up of two fields. With standard, interlaced scanning, the odd vertical lines record before the even lines, which produces a visible lag when viewing the full-frame. The LE2 employs progressive scanning, in which all 480 lines record simultaneously, producing superior vertical resolution. 30 ips (Images Per Second) is always preferable to 30 fps (Frames Per Second).
This makes my job easier when performing forensic video analysis. Digital footage captured at 640 x 480p strikes a good balance between file size and resolution. Since most conversations occur at a distance of six feet or less, officers wearing a VIEVU record an ideal, detailed field of view, thanks to the unit’s well-chosen, 71 wide-angle lens.
I use the LE2 to document evidence retrieval in the field. The camera works perfectly, providing a time-stamped video record of the DVR I’m working on and its location. And I’m looking forward to receiving the company’s newest upgrade, the hi-def LE3.
For more info on VIEVU and their products, check out CEO Ed Primeau’s interview with VIEVU CEO Steve Ward here!