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.
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