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.
The Great Worth of an Audio FileA picture is worth a thousand words. However, an audio file can be worth even more in a video forensic laboratory. A trained video forensic expert knows what to look and listen for during a forensic video authentication and analysis investigation. Many CCTV systems now have the capability to record audio. And this audio portion of the surveillance video recording can be crucial to the legitimacy of the digital video evidence. Audio is a great tool to investigate an anomaly or edit when investigating a video recording. To do so there’s a process and protocol we follow at Primeau Forensics.
Audio BasicsSound pressure waves are the building blocks of audio, which are representative of the change in air pressure in a recording. One characteristic of sound pressure waves is that they are always smooth and continuous. For example, you’re recording in an open, quiet room. While you’re recording, a rebellious teenager comes in the room and blows off his air-horn. Even though that loud sound completely changed the overall sound in the room, the wave that represents the pressure change will always be smooth and continuous. The only time that a wave is not smooth and continuous is when an edit occurs. A recording edit disturbs the waveform. This makes it temporarily rigid and inconsistent. All sound pressure waves should be the opposite of that. So, when I am critically listening and hear a sound outside of that smooth, uninterrupted audio file, I know I have an anomaly that may be an edit. How is that disturbance represented? Well, it will usually manifest itself in the form of a pop. In the context of video, it usually will only last a frame, but the sound will be there. If you hear anything that deviates from the already established waveform, editing occurred.
Detecting Audio EditsAdobe and Izatope RX have software that allow a forensic experts to more accurately detect these edits. For example, a spectrogram detects the noise floor in a recording. The spectrum recorded for a noise floor should be consistent in visual characteristics as long as nothing changes with the ambiance in a recording. When you see a deviation in that consistency, just as if you hear one in the dialogue, you have altered audio, and subsequently altered video. There are many ways to detect edits visually when reviewing digital video evidence. Establishing a chain of custody, as well as performing forensic video authentication and analysis, will reveal integrity in your video recording or anamolies if the CCTV video recording has been comprised.
Body Worn Camera Usage GrowsAn 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 CamerasBody 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 CamerasAs 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 Series of EventsAccording to police reports, the victim in question, 50-year-old Walter L. Scott, continued to flee after being hit by the officer’s stun gun. The reports also state that Mr. Scott took Officer Slager’s stun gun, which lead to a reasonable pursuit. However, the video seems to show a different story. First, the stun gun is dropped. Second, the officer guns down Mr. Scott and drops something next to the unarmed man. It is not clear what was dropped; however, some fear that this was planted on the man after his shooting, as police report that the officer’s taser was taken.
Video Evidence BenefitsIn either case, the innocent bystander who recorded the Good Samaritan video aided in this investigation. Not only did he take the responsibility to record the events, but he also utilized landscape mode on his cell phone to record the altercation. As a result, we’re provided with additional digital video evidence for this investigation. As you see in the first few seconds of the video, portrait orientation would not have accurately captured the events as they occurred. Mr. Scott would have run off screen and we never would have seen this happen. However, because he shot the video in landscape mode, we see the shooting clearly. Situations like this help reinforce the importance of the devices in our pockets. Smartphone video can make or break a case like this and we need to understand why it’s so crucial to utilize the tools we have when an unlawful event occurs. If it weren’t for the Good Samaritan, this story may have gone unseen and unnoticed. You can watch the video below via the NY Times:
Types of Video Work ProductsThere are a few different digital video recording platforms that I use when creating video work product. I often use VIEVU body worn cameras and HDSLR photography based cameras. Each of these of systems serves a purpose in assisting with a forensic investigation. Over the last few years, I have seen firsthand the significance and efficiency that body worn cameras and their recorded video can bring to the public, law enforcement, and legal proceedings. I personally use the VIEVU LE2 and LE3 body worn cameras. The LE3 records in 720p HD resolution and utilizes a 68 degree field of view. Other competitor cameras normally use a 130 degree field of view, which captures a wider field of view but less detail. And when it comes to video evidence, details are usually more important.
LE3 Body Worn CamerasThese body worn cameras also contain digital audio recorders, which record MP3 format audio at a 44.1kHz sampling rate and a 64kbps bit rate. This high sampling rate captures the full range of human hearing, making recorded audio more audible. In some cases, a client lawyer or law enforcement agencies require that videos record zero audio. The LE3 audio recorder switches off separately from the video, providing flexibility in such a situation. The LE3 records to either MP4 or AVI video format for easy playability across various platforms utilizing the H.264 codec. These formats also allow easy integration into forensic programs, such as the Adobe Production Premium Suite. The 16 GB flash style storage system allows for either 12 hours of SD video or 6 hours of HD video and quick data transfer rates. The battery will last 5 hours during SD recording and 3 hours during HD recordings. The unit is also compatible with an external battery pack for extended battery life. My main use for the LE3 body camera is recording my forensic process in the field. This includes retrieving evidence from different systems so I can review later and include it in my report. This supports the authenticity of my work product and any evidence used in the case. Often times, a forensic expert will be challenged by a client or opposing lawyer to verify the investigative materials’ chain of custody. Even minor details on how the investigation was conducted can have a large bearing on the authenticity of the evidence. A digital video recorde allows me to capture a video of the investigative process and dialogue explaining it. Including this work product to my forensic reports verifies the chain of custody and protects me as a forensic expert.
HDSLR Photography CameraAnother type of digital video camera that I use to produce video work product is an HDSLR photography camera. This type of equipment has become popular among the scientific community, as well as production companies, for its portability, versatility, quality, and functionality. An HDSLR photography camera uses different size lenses to capture images and video depending on investigation requirements. HDSLR cameras record in 720p, 1080p, anamorphic and even 4k resolution. These cameras typically record at 30 minute intervals and have a battery life of approximately 2 hours, depending on the preferred quality and the available storage space. When connected to an external power source, these cameras record for longer intervals of time. HDSLR cameras are great for recording an alternative perspective to body cameras of an investigation or retrieval process. The flexibility of being able to produce individual still images as well as video throughout an investigation is also helpful with my forensic process. In some investigations, a single perspective may not be sufficient to display the forensic process or document events. Another high-quality camera with perspective flexibility and interchangeable lenses can capture investigative aspects that body cameras cannot. Additionally, this lockdown feature of a point-and-shoot camera allows an investigator or client attorney to view the process as if they are watching in real time. Another use for HDSLR cameras is recording accident reconstruction videos. An accident reconstruction video is a recreation of an event in the same environment they occurred. This allows them to be shown to a client investigator, client attorney, or law enforcement. It is most effective to show the real life series of events as opposed to 3D animation or a written statement.
CCTV Surveillance SystemsClosed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems have been the dominant source of video evidence during my 30 years as a forensic expert. Video evidence produced by CCTV systems can help reproduce accidents and disasters as they occurred for playback in different settings. One significant use a forensic expert has when recording video from a CCTV system is to create an exemplar. An exemplar recording is a recording made in the most similar way possible to the original piece of evidence. It uses the same equipment, settings, environment and conditions of the original evidence. Used as a comparison file to the original evidence, this recording helps determine authenticity. A forensic investigation compares both the quality of the video and the metadata included in the files. It is a best practice at Primeau Forensics to video record forensic investigations. For example, we record our exemplar creation processes and evidence recovery. As a result, we can reference this video work product if our client has any questions during the life of their case.
Advantages of Body Worn Cameras and Video EvidenceVideo 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.
Revolutionizing the Court SystemLast 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!
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a significant acceleration in the development and manufacture of consumer-grade, mobile video devices. From smartphones to GoPros, video recording has become substantially less expensive and far more accessible to consumers. In turn, this may change digital evidence as we know it.
Mobile Video Evidence in Mississippi
The mobile video revolution now allows us to capture video of events as they occur. This phenomenon has created powerful repercussions in the courtroom. Thanks to the availability of video devices and trends in social media, we now have presented at trial video evidence of events that, until recently, have rarely been made known.
For example, take this video of a woman from Mississippi. As she begins to merge onto the highway, a truck hits her car, causing it to catch fire. She and her children appear trapped as the flames grow in size.
Suddenly, a truck driver approaches from behind the scene of the accident. He pulls the family from the burning car just before it explodes. Had the truck driver appeared a few minutes later, it is likely that the entire family would have been killed.
This is a heroic, inspiring story. An inspiring story that would have gone completely unnoticed if weren’t for the rescuer’s dash camera recording the entire incident. This heroic act became a huge story and would have gone unrecognized by the public without the mobile video technology of this generation.
Mobile Video Evidence in Ferguson
However, the documentation of heroic stories like this is only the beginning. The spread of mobile video devices to every pocket, purse, and vehicle has widespread positive effects. This public video revolution can also make or break a court case, providing the crucial evidence that makes true justice possible.
For this, let’s use the currently infamous video, Officer Go-F***-Yourself. The officer in Ferguson appeared at a peaceful protest late one night in August. He approached a group of young adult protesters with an assault weapon drawn. He pointed it at them and he told them that if they did not return to their homes, he would “f***ing kill them”.
In the world of law enforcement, this kind of behavior on the part of an officer is absolutely improper and illegal. The protest was peaceful. The young adults weren’t causing any harm or exhibiting disorderly behavior. Even if they were, threatening protesters in such a crude manor is clearly unacceptable in a free society.
Had this happened 10 years ago, it might have gone completely unnoticed. The officer in question may have gotten away with blatantly making death threats to civilians. Not to mention, the only evidence from the protesters would’ve turned into a game of he said, she said. However, because one of the protesters was smart enough to take out their cell phone and document the entire confrontation, the officer was suspended. The Ferguson Police Department saw the events exactly as they transpired and his guilt was indisputable. This, in itself, is revolutionary, and is an indication of how much power mobile video evidence can have in the courtroom.
The Power of Mobile Video evidence in Court
A clear representation of events is the most indisputable evidence available. It allows the jury, officials, and lawyers to witness events with their own eyes and ears. Other forms of evidence can be easily disputed, but allowing the court to experience the event for themselves is the most effective method of presenting evidence. It is even more reliable than an eyewitness account.
Consider the most powerful documentaries you’ve ever seen. What do they all have in common? Generally, they all rely on the reality of the situation by allowing viewers to experience it for themselves. You can throw out as many facts and statistics as you want, but experiencing actual issues and circumstances is what will stick with people most. The feeling viewers derive from seeing the faces and hearing the people speak is incomparable to any statistic in the world. This is why Charlie LeDuff’s piece on Ferguson is one of the most powerful, yet. It doesn’t focus on the narrative or the stats. It focuses on those who are so passionate about this cause that they would fight, risk arrest, or even die for it.
In sum, the mobile video revolution is critical to the justice system. The best way to reap its benefits is to remain aware of its power. If you experience anything unlawful, always remember that the device in your pocket could make or break the fate of those guilty. These devices allow us to capture indisputable evidence about what truly took place and it is a privilege we can’t ignore. Above all, these developments could completely change the face of digital forensic evidence forever.
The importance of proper video evidence recovery is clear to those of us involved in forensic video enhancement. During the process of video evidence recovery, we make sure the highest quality video recording is properly saved for court use. Video forensic experts receive extensive training in video evidence recovery.
As a forensic expert, I have worked on many cases involving digital video recordings admitted into evidence in court. Much of our work with these recordings involves video enhancement, which allows the trier of fact to better see events as they occurred. Often times, video surveillance systems or smartphones record the digital evidence in question. We properly remove recordings from both mobile and stationary surveillance systems for forensic enhancement.
Stationary surveillance systems record video at locations such as convenience stores, banks, and other businesses or institutions. Buses, trains and other types of public transportation utilize mobile surveillance systems.
Evidence Recovery Importance
There are three main factors we would like to mention regarding the reason for proper evidence recovery. First, when we retrieve recorded video evidence, we create a video recording of our process. This establishes an indisputable chain of custody. It also demonstrates for those who were not present the process and procedure we used. We take special precautions during the retrieval process to make sure we leave with at least one version of the recording. Additionally, we leave with the recorded video evidence for future forensic enhancement and authentication as necessary.
We retrieve the recording so as to minimize any degradation of quality. When a lawsuit depends on the analysis of a surveillance video, it is important not to leave evidence retrieval to an untrained security guard.
We research the operator’s manual and connect with tech support from the surveillance company before traveling to perform evidence recovery. While on site, we also examine the administrative log and determine additional forensic information for the chain of custody.
Video Evidence Recovery Best Practices
An excellent manual for retrieval of electronic evidence developed jointly by the federal government’s inter-agency Technical Support Working Group, the FBI Forensic Audio, Video, and Image Analysis Unit, and law enforcement agencies from around the world. Entitled Best Practices for the Retrieval of Video Evidence from Digital CCTV Systems, it contains an authoritative (if somewhat dated) overview of the topic and covers many of the protocols we have adopted at Primeau Forensics.
Before digital audio and video recorders, retrieving a tape-based analogue recording was fairly straightforward. Recordings were made to tape cassettes, which were stored in climate-controlled conditions. Evidence retrieval was as simple as picking up the original cassette recording. Digital video recorders (DVRs), however, do not record to easily portable cassettes. Rather, they record to the kind of hard disk drives found in computers. These internal hard drives are not portable, making evidence retrieval more difficult. Whether we take the DVR or its internal drive with me or make a lossless copy of its contents, I always follow anti-static procedures and carry all media in specially shielded cases.
Proprietary vs Open Source Video
All surveillance and standard digital video uses a specific compression/decompression scheme or codec to record. The compressed file’s storage structure determines its format. It is not uncommon for surveillance DVRs to use proprietary formats, allowing playback only through the original recording DVR. Some DVRs can re-compress the original proprietary format file, trans-coding it into a non-proprietary format for easy playback. However, these more accessible files often contain lower quality video and audio. When we retrieve these digital video files, we study the DVR’s operating manual to find the best way to make a high quality copy that retains all data and metadata. By minimizing or eliminating the degradation that can accompany translating the file from one format to another, we ensure that our lab analysis is based on the best video recording available.
This is a blog post that will help the reader better understand how to recover video.Read More
- 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