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.
Video work products are a way to document forensic investigations, such as evidence recovery, for reference at a later date. A video camera documents processes and procedures during a forensic investigation for future use. I have referred back to my video work product many times when I have questions later during the evolution of the case.
As an audio & video forensic expert, I have examined hundreds of audio and video recordings to determine authenticity, as well as enhance characteristics of the digital evidence. This video work product helps clarify the events as they occurred.
Types of Video Work Products
There 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 Cameras
These 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 Camera
Another 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 Systems
Closed 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.
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