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.
November 19, 2004 was the day the worst sporting brawl in US history took place. It was the final few minutes of the basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons when a fight broke out between the players. While Ron Artest was in time out, a drunken fan tossed a partially full beer cup and hit Artest causing him to jump over seats and attack a fan in the stands. With tempers running hot, Artest went after the wrong person and triggered an ‘every man for himself’ situation with only four Auburn Hills police officers in the building.
After the criminal litigations were over, the attorney for the Pacers, Steve Potter retained my services as a video forensic expert on behalf of the Indiana Pacers basketball team. My first activity was to collect all of the available video footage from that moment when the brawl broke out. As you can imagine there were many video sources. With the help of http://www.potterlaw.com/, I found cell phone videos, CCTV system videos from the Palace of Auburn Hills, and four major television network multi-camera video sources.
The next task was to cull through all the footage including multi-camera views of the brawl and isolate those vantage point views that helped bring the brawl into the courtroom for the civil litigation.
I was prepared with several video clips when the first civil case went to trial, Haddad V Indiana Pacers on August 10, 2006. (Read all about it here).
Here are the video forensic activities I used to help the Trier of Fact and jurors view the brawl including all isolated incidents in question. After I received all video footage, I loaded the various formats into my forensic computer using Adobe Premiere Pro software. I created sequences for each incident and placed the useful camera vantage point clips back to back in each sequence. Some events went by very fast so I repeated the video clips and added slow motion. In some cases, I reduced the speed by 25%, 50%, and 75% so all persons could see the series of events as they occurred. When necessary, I also zoomed to enlarge the area of interest in each video clip.
In my opinion, it is very important to place this series of clips back to back with a 5-second pause in between clips so the viewer can become acclimated with the series of events as they occurred. For each clip vantage point, there was an average of two to five minutes of video all persons could watch to see exactly what went down during the brawl.
Read more about the brawl: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacers%E2%80%93Pistons_brawl
Footage from the infamous brawl can be found below:
As experienced and trained video forensic experts, we perform video enhancement in our lab on a regular basis. In the following post, we will share with you some common challenges with forensic video enhancement process. We will also share some ‘How To’s’ so you better understand the forensic video enhancement process.
Video Enhancement Preliminary Analysis
Client attorneys submit video recordings to us for preliminary analysis. During this phase, we spend one hour of lab time to review the statistics of the video recording. We examine the compression, pixels, format and aspect ratio to name a few. During the preliminary analysis, we communicate to our client whether or not forensic video enhancement is possible. Nobody should pay high forensic laboratory rates until a forensic expert believes a video recording can be enhanced.
The main reason we are called many times every day here at Primeau Forensics for video enhancement is that our clients want to better see the events as they occurred. This is mostly because they want the truth about an event, crime, or altercation.
Purpose and Goals for Video Enhancement
One of the goals of forensic video enhancement, in some cases, is to be able to see person’s faces better than they are when viewing the video without video enhancement. In this case, a comparative analysis is performed after video enhancement in an attempt to determine the identity of a person in a video recording.
Other reasons for forensic video enhancement is to enlarge and clarify a video in order to identify, for instance, the license plate on a car. This is more difficult, especially if the car is in motion and the camera is not near the license plate. When the car is not moving and the license plate is in close proximity to the camera, a video forensic expert can use frame averaging to combine the best pixel quality for successful video enhancement.
Audio Enhancement for Video Recordings
Audio portions of video recordings can also be enhanced to help an investigation. On occasion, audio portions of video recordings fail or are not clear. In the laboratory, we can remove the audio portion of a video recording and forensically enhance the audio to better hear the events as they originally occurred.
With forensic video enhancement, we can only enhance what is possible to enhance. Hollywood has distorted the public perception of what can be enhanced forensically and what is impossible to forensically enhance.
In some cases, the video is of too poor quality for forensic video enhancement. Some reasons for low video quality include; the video recording was not exported properly and the camera lens is dirty (keep your outdoor cameras clean).
Frame rate is set low in the digital video recorder will also lower the potential for successful video enhancement. If the video recording size (aspect ratio) is small, we have a lower chance for successful video enhancement. We can not zoom and clarify the objects of interest. These objects become blurry and distorted. Even while using the best forensic video enhancement tools and software programs available, a successful enhancement isn’t always possible.
We Ask Questions About Your Video Recording
When we initially speak to a client-attorney, government agency, or private individual, we ask a lot of questions about the video recording. Is the video recording still stored on the system that created it? This is always the best practice when a video recording has captured a crime. That way, a video forensic expert can be brought in to examine the recording system and video quality to make sure we have the highest quality of video recording for video enhancement. We have learned to ask a lot of questions before our clients spend any money that may be wasted. We always make sure we have the best quality export from the system or device that created the video recording when performing forensic video enhancement.
At Primeau Forensics, we have a team of trained forensic experts, forensic technicians, and investigators that work on a daily bases with all kinds of video recordings.
How to Enhance a Video Recording
This section is designed to better help you understand the forensic video enhancement process. One tip that we can present to you, as previously mentioned, is to make sure you always have the highest possible quality export from the equipment that created the video recording. Types of equipment that create video include a CCTV surveillance system, mobile video surveillance device, police dash camera, police body camera, and smartphone to name a few. Another tip is to keep the video recording stored on the device that created the video recording.
There are methods for recovering video recordings for forensic video enhancement. A more desirable method is exporting the highest quality video recording. Another is to play the video recording while simultaneously recording the video onto another device. Here is another tip, do not use your smartphone to record the playback screen of a video surveillance system and expect a successful video enhancement.
Police departments often send us video recordings created on a surveillance system that were not exported through the equipment that created it but rather recorded out of the equipment onto another device. Once the device plays the recording while another device simultaneously recordings the playback signal. An output like ‘VGA’ is used which records the same quality that can be viewed on the systems video monitor. This is much better than recording the screen with your smartphone. Some of the time this is the only way to get a video recording exported from the system that created it.
There are several companies that manufacture turnkey evidence retrieval systems.
In some cases, a simultaneous video recording is better than what the system that created the recording is capable of exporting. When in doubt, it is best to perform both processes and send us both versions. Screen capture or VGA as well as an export from the system. To further explain, an export is a process that can be verified in the operator’s manual of the system.
Call the manufacturer of the surveillance system tech department if you need help. Do not wait too long and risk the important video recording to be erased or overwritten. Put the export on a thumb drive and make back up copies. Do not change the file format or any other settings when making copies.
If you have any questions about video enhancement, forensic video enhancement, or forensic video recovery, call our experts at 800.647.4281.
As a video forensic expert and expert witness, I have seen almost everything when it comes to CCTV. Some of it is very disturbing, but much of it is 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 forensic tips 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 various locations or angles can be viewed and/or recorded. It does differ from broadcast television in that CCTV cameras are not openly broadcast through the airwaves. However, some CCTV systems have point-to-point transmissions that could be intercepted by someone with the equipment and knowledge to intercept that signals.
The benefits outweigh the drawbacks of 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, businesses, 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 on 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 expert’s 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 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 thoroughly 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 directly to the hard drive. If at all possible, do not use VHS. There are some great companies like Focus Micro and Crest electronics that 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.
One out of ten of my cases requires the 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 a 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’.
As 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 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.
Every case that requires video enhancement requires the video forensic expert to develop a strategy comprised of a series of steps and forensic software tools. Back when surveillance video was an analog videotape, video enhancement was more difficult. The equipment forensic experts used to conduct video enhancement was entirely hardware-based. Forensic experts did the best they could with what they had to work with.
Today, technology has progressed, making several scientific community-approved software programs available. One thing that causes difficulty during video enhancement is poor camera placement.
Installation of CCTV cameras must be well thought out in advance in order to aide in the forensic investigation, should a crime be committed. In addition, the sun constantly moves throughout the day and affects the surveillance video camera by over and under-exposing the surveillance area.
Outdoor cameras become dirty after a period of time, making video enhancement difficult. Point Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras provide much better video surveillance footage because of their ability to move, follow and zoom in on perpetrators more effectively than surface mount cameras. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Making sure the surveillance system is properly thought out and installed will make video enhancement more successful than trying to fix problems that could have been avoided.
I do not have to convince you of the value of surveillance video; the number of court cases that have video forensic evidence speaks for themselves. Surveillance video recordings produce very useful high-quality digital video recordings that aide litigators in the courtroom see the events as they originally occurred.
Video enhancement is challenged by one thing: the fact that most security video recordings must be viewed on a proprietary player, a software program that has the ability to interpret the specific manufacturer’s secure code, which maintains the integrity of the video recording, keeps the video secure and reduces the vulnerability of editing. This proprietary player makes it very difficult to alter or edit the surveillance video. Some manufacturers allow the ability to export video files from their surveillance propriety players and others do not. This poses a challenge for the video enhancement expert.
The best bet in any situation that requires video enhancement is to talk to an experienced video forensic expert to learn what is possible and what is not. Video enhancement is misled by what Hollywood produces and often confuses the public as to what is possible and what is not.
After the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, the FBI immediately went to work investigating all available video evidence to begin the video forensic process. Several sources of video evidence were available for FBI forensic examiners, including:
The first camera that FBI investigators began working with to clarify images was from …Read More
It is very obvious that we are vulnerable to attacks with little or no advance warning as exhibited in the recent bombing in Boston during the marathon. There are so far reported 176 casualties; 17 critical and 3 fatalities. Now the daunting task of forensic video investigation must take place.
Part …Read More
In many of the cases I investigate as a video forensic expert, there could have better outcomes. If more thought was put into CCTV surveillance camera placement locations, more CCTV video would be useful in litigation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding where to place …Read More