Increase in Body Worn Cameras and Video Evidence for Trial

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.

A DVD is NOT an Original Video

DVD EvidenceMore often than not, a DVD is not an original video.

Many law enforcement organizations create DVD copies for defendants because they are much easier to play than native digital video formats. This can be confusing so allow me to further explain.

Over the last 30 years as a practicing audio/video forensic expert, I have experienced many digital file formats, as well as analog tape formats, used in litigation. Usually, they are able to successfully serve a purpose by showing the facts as they occurred. These videos help bring the scene of the crime into the courtroom so the Trier of Fact and the jury can make decisions more accurately. People alter video and eliminate sections they do not want the court to see.

This is why as a video forensic expert, I am asked to examine and authenticate video evidence when one of the parties in the litigation disagrees with the contents of the video. When the video evidence is presented on a DVD as a VOB burn, it is nearly impossible for me to authenticate because the metadata has been stripped. When a digital video is created, the metadata in the digital video file has information about the equipment that made the digital video file, the date and time the digital video was recorded and most importantly, a footprint of any video editing software that was used before that video was admitted into evidence. All of this metadata information is stripped from the digital video recording if the video has been burned to a DVD.

Part of my job is to investigate the history of the video in evidence and help attorneys and prosecutors obtain originals or better understand the video evidence before any due process begins. One of the biggest problems I find is that most of the video entered into evidence is on a DVD and is not original. When either of the litigators question the contents of a video, they ask for my help to determine if any editing or alteration has occurred. I always encourage prosecutors and lawyers to maintain the original video evidence in the recorder that created it because that way, a full forensic investigation is easily executed.

Once that original video is deleted, it becomes much more difficult to investigate forensically. In some cases, a properly made copy of the original evidence will include the important metadata necessary for the authentication process. Leaving the digital video file in its native format is much better than converting the video format to a DVD VOB file through the burning process.