Rise in Video Evidence as Police Body Cameras are Used More

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Increasing the use of police body cameras will create a rise in video evidence

Increasing the use of police body cameras will create a rise in video evidence (photo compliments of CBS)

On Tuesday, September 15, LAPD officers shot and killed a man who officers claimed had a gun, which was recovered next to the suspect. As of June 1 of 2015, LAPD officers had shot and killed 10 people according to the Guardian Newspaper. Nationally, law enforcement officers had killed roughly 450 people by June of 2015. So what makes the LAPD shooting from September 15th different? It was one of the first LAPD shootings captured by police worn body cameras. As the LAPD, and dozens of other departments nationwide, begin to deploy body cameras, attorneys can expect to see a rise in video evidence and a lot more cases – both criminal and civil – where video may be central to their case.

As the number of police body cameras in use continues to rise, so do the costs. Initially, the upsurge in videos will certainly give attorneys and prosecutors more evidence to use in their trials and proceedings; but will this rise in evidence be sustainable (cost-wise) in the long term? The City Manager of Berkeley, CA estimates the costs of storing the videos captured by body cameras to be approximately $45,000 a year per 150 cameras. In a department like the LAPD, which plans to have cameras for all 20,000 full-time officers, that could come to $6,000,000 per year. This price tag would be for storage alone, and it does not include other potential costs such as maintenance, installation, repairs, etc. Other estimates suggest the cost could be as high as $24,000,000 per year for the LAPD to store the videos. With costs that high, departments may not be able to afford the body cameras far into the future.

In the here and now, however, attorneys need to take advantage of the rise in video evidence. The analysis, enhancement, and use of video and audio evidence can be crucial in clarifying the details and facts of a case. Having a firm and complete understanding of what the video evidence shows and how to use it can be the difference between winning or losing your case.

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The Importance of Perspective

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The importance of perspectives plays heavily on how evidence is interpreted or used in court

A baseball game was playing last week where a very tough call was made: the runner slid into third base at nearly the same time the third baseman caught the ball. The player was called out and a team challenged the call. While the play was under review, replays were aired showing the play from multiple camera perspectives. The camera from the first base line clearly showed that the baseman caught the ball first and the runner was out. The camera from the third base line appeared to show that the runner made it first and was therefore safe. Examples like the baseball play illustrate the importance of perspective and that the angle of view — whether a human witness or a surveillance camera — can greatly impact perception.

It is rare that a home or business will setup only one security camera. An establishment that has installed their surveillance properly will not only have multiple cameras, but they will often configure them to overlap coverage in order to get multiple angles of the same zones. What’s more, surveillance systems are everywhere now. It is very common for neighboring establishments to have surveillance systems as well. What does this mean for an attorney’s case? This could mean there is more than one angle showing what happened. Having multiple perspectives recorded of the same event may be crucial because as the baseball example shows, a single perspective may not accurately show what really happened.

Although some of the details have been changed to protect the privacy of parties involved, NCAVF worked a case, which was recorded from several angles, where police were attempting to arrest a woman who was resisting arrest. Once officers had the woman in handcuffs, the family of the suspect became hostile towards the officers. To protect themselves, officers were forced to use pepper spray on the advancing crowd. Dashcam footage of these events appeared to show the crowd was twenty five feet away from the officers and therefore not as much a threat. However, a closer analysis of the video proved that the initial perception of the incident offered by the dashcams was wrong and that the crowd was not 25 feet away but really five or six feet away. What first seemed a possible explanation of distance — even to the defense — was proven inaccurate.

At the end of the day, attorney’s must recognize the importance of perspective and that what is viewed on a single piece of video evidence may not be a clear representation of the actual events. The perspective in which the video was recorded often plays heavily in how it appears to the viewer. This, above all else, means it is crucial for attorneys to rely on a video forensic expert to clarify and analyze the evidence in order to understand what really happened.

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How Much is Evidence Really Worth

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LAPD officer's breaking up the unlawful gathering.

LAPD officer’s breaking up the unlawful gathering. How much was evidence really worth in this case? $4,000,000!

When attorneys determine a budget for their case, a question that is perhaps not asked often enough is how much is  evidence really worth to the case? NCAVF recently worked a case where the plaintiff was suing the City of Los Angeles for $4 million. In this case, NCAVF represented the defense, the City of LA. When millions of dollars, or even thousands of dollars may be in the balance, it’s crucial to devote the time, effort, and budget necessary to procure any and all evidence that can mean the difference between being awarded millions or having to pay millions!

In the above mentioned case, NCAVF worked for the defendant in Torres v City of Los Angeles. Mr. Torres wanted $4 million dollars claiming he was injured by LAPD officers while being arrested. In actuality, Mr. Torres refused to leave a downtown LA street while police were attempting to disperse a crowd of “Occupy LA” protesters who had become violent — almost to the point of rioting. Fortunately for the defense, Mr. Torres’ arrest was recorded by several bystanders. The difficulty, however, was in tracking them down. In one case, NCAVF even traveled to the home of one of the posters and searched their hard drive to make a high resolution copy of the original footage.

NCAVF was able to find some of the videos showing Torres’ arrest on video sharing sites, but as is often the case, they had been uploaded in a lower resolution than they had been originally recorded. This, of course, makes enhancing the video much more difficult, if not impossible. But when facing a potential $4 million case, it was certainly worth it to have NCAVF take the time required to conduct a proper investigation to find the highest resolution copies of the video in existence.

After deliberating less than two hours, the jury returned a complete defense verdict, awarding Mr. Torres nothing. Had the defense not been able to enter those videos into evidence, they likely would not have won their case. In fact, the attorney stated that before this case he had never fully realized how important it was to have a complete understanding and familiarity with the video evidence.

NCAVF also recently worked for the defense on another civil case where a known gang member — who was wanted for a double murder — was shot and killed by police during their apprehension. The family of the suspect was seeking a large sum of money from the police, our client. Here, one of the key videos showing the shooting was recorded in high definition by a smartphone. That video was aired on the nightly news. It was from this airing that NCAVF extracted the video. But because it was taken from a recording of the recording, the video’s quality had been degraded. The network that aired the video refused to give up a higher quality version. Nonetheless, NCAVF was able to enhance the video enough that is was usable in court.

Whether representing the plaintiff or defendant, always ask yourself (or your client) how much is this evidence worth to your case? Having access and use of any and all video or audio evidence may be the difference between $4 million and $0.

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CBS2, KCAL9, & CNN Interviews NCAVF on the Police Shooting of a Homeless Man on Skid Row

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NCAVF Notowitz interview still image, KCAL 9 KCBS 2 3-2-2015 re LAPD shoot homeless man

NCAVF is Interviewed by CBS2 and KCAL9 After Police Shooting of a Homeless Man on Skid Row

On Sunday, March 1, LAPD Officers shot and killed a man in the “Skid Row” area of downtown Los Angeles. The case has garnered a lot of media attention as the entire incident was caught not only on nearby surveillance cameras, but it was also filmed in high definition using an iPhone and by officer worn video cameras. The police shooting of a homeless man was only after they claim the suspect grabbed for one of the officer’s weapons. NCAVF was interviewed by CBS2 and KCAL 9’s Andrea Fujii about what we saw in the clip. See the interview here.

The copy of the video we received was downloaded from YouTube, so it had been compressed and the quality as high a the original. Nonetheless, we were able to better reveal much of what happened between officers and the suspect that day. Clearly showing what appears to be the suspect reaching for and grabbing an officer’s gun. Once we have the other video clips, including the security surveillance video and police body cams, we will be able to sync them all together to show a clear picture of the entire course of events.

UPDATE:  CNN got ahold of a much higher quality version of the video and contacted NCAVF to have us enhance and analyze the incident. Here’s what we discovered:  CNN talks to NCAVF about LAPD skid row shooting

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Bill to Make Police Body Cam Footage Private

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Police Body Cam

Bill To Make Police Body Cam Footage Private

In the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, dozens of police departments all over the country have reaffirmed their intentions to begin deploying officer worn body cameras. In fact Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, in December of 2014, committed to purchasing 7,000 body cams to outfit LAPD officers. But one issue that has yet to be adequately addressed is a lack of standardization with how to handle, store, and process all the footage that these cameras will record. Three Congressman in St. Paul, Minnesota have offered a possible solution: they’ve proposed a bill to make police body cam footage private.

With nearly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in existence within the US, there are well over 1,000,000 sworn police officers nationwide. As the use of police body cams increase, so will the audio and video evidence. This will create billions of terabytes of video and audio evidence. Proponents of the Minnesota bill suggest that making the footage secret is for privacy reasons. It is not uncommon for the footage officers collect to be of a very personal nature as they often respond to peoples homes where all forms of disarray can be captured: from folks under the influence to half-naked kids running around the living room, officers have seen it all. The events an officer may witness, say sponsors of this bill, should remain private (especially when recorded in the homes of citizens).

Representatives Tony Cornish, Brian Johnson, and Dan Schoen (Schoen is also an active police officer), are the authors of the bill. The three congressmen propose that only those recorded in the incident will have access to the footage. What’s more, the bill mandates that evidence that is not necessarily relevant to to a case be destroyed within 90 days; this will be regardless of whether or not the case remains open.

Opponents of the bill, however, indicate that destroying the evidence will undermine the very need for the body cams in the first place. With events like the shooting of Michael Brown, many in the public have desired to see more police oversight, with the body cams being a first step in that direction. Yet, there may be an inability to give this oversight if the body cam footage is made private. However, the footage being used for public oversight may be only conceptual, at best. Right now, Minnesota state “data laws” presume that footage captured by police body cams is available to the public, but this is sometimes not the case. Occasionally when folks request footage from law enforcement, they are told the footage no longer exists, which may make it difficult for attorneys or the general public to retrieve copies of the footage.

Despite legislation that is aimed at controlling the audio and video evidence, one thing is definitely clear: attorneys, law enforcement, and forensic experts all need to be prepared for the deluge of new evidence that will be available for their cases. Not only will it be crucial to know when and how to use this evidence, but they must also be aware that the laws governing the use and availability of this new evidence may affect their ability to gather or use it as well.


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Attorney’s Complete Understanding and Familiarity with the Video Evidence Wins Case

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Still from footage used as part of the video evidence, compliments of ABC7

Occupy Los Angeles Protest, Art Walk, July 12, 2012 Arrest of the Plaintiff by LAPD officers

Just this week, one of our clients got a victory on a civil case, stemming from the “Occupy Los Angeles” movement on July 12, 2012, and due to so much press attention at this Occupy LA protest, there were dozens of video, audio, web pages, and still images which captured aspects of evidence in this case. Finding, enhancing, and syncing the video evidence kept us working diligently. The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a complete defense verdict. According to the defense attorney, the victory was in large part due to the extensive audio and video research, analysis, and enhancement work contributed by NCAVF. The attorney also said that before this case he had never fully realized how important it was to have a complete understanding and familiarity with the video evidence. The attorney noted it was this familiarity with the video evidence in court that was his lynchpin to winning the case.

So then how do attorney’s develop a complete understanding and familiarity with the video evidence? First, it is important to examine a problem we see all too often. In an attorney’s day to day bombardment of handling multiple cases, we’ve seen attorneys developing tunnel-vision — looking at only one approach to their case. This is especially true when evaluating audio or video evidence.  When we receive surveillance video evidence from an attorney or client, we are often given specific instructions by the attorney handling the case. For instance we are asked to get a clear face picture of the suspect in the video. Seeing the face of the suspect can certainly be important, but there are often other details, just as important, frequently overlooked by attorneys such as:

  • Metadata on the video (date/time stamping)
  • How it was recorded
  • Types of cameras and lenses used
  • Are there possibly better resolutions available
  • Are there other angles or sources available

As video forensics experts, we’re trained to look outside the box, at the periphery: what was going on minutes or even hours before or after the suspect appears in the video? What is in the suspect’s hands? How did those items get into his hands? Where was the suspect looking or walking just before, during, or after the incident? The answers can be crucial for a case.

In the civil case we just helped win, our client, the defendant’s attorney, told us that developing his familiarity with the video evidence was staggeringly important for helping the jury understand the facts of the case. The attorney remarked that developing this familiarity enabled him to point out the most important aspects of the video to the jury. Using this knowledge, he was also able to refute claims made by the opposing counsel’s witnesses.

Another aspect often overlooked by attorneys is the scope of modern digital software forensic capabilities. Our sophisticated 3D rendering software allows us to use photogrammetry to determine the height of a suspect captured on surveillance footage. Such a determination can be invaluable if the height of the suspect on the video and the height of the accused are not the same.

An additional forensic technique that is often unknown to attorneys, but used frequently by NCAVF in cases, is synchronization. This is the practice of taking multiple camera angles and audio recordings of the same event and creating a single playable video, giving a viewer a unified, synchronized, and clear piece of evidence. The jury is then able to see a complete picture of what is happening.

For instance, camera 1 may be a wide street view of an incident from a surveillance camera set up by the city. Camera 2, recorded from a local business, shows a clear view of a suspect as he walks on the sidewalk. Camera 3, from the security camera of another business, might show the suspect looking around suspiciously. The city’s wide view camera will show the general movements of the suspect, and the closer cameras make details apparent. Showing video and audio evidence in synchronization, a jury can be shown all the video evidence in a concise and compelling way that unifies the case and keeps their attention.

The advances in the high quality recording of security surveillance video evidence has allowed us to investigate alleged crimes and determine the sequence of events for incidents in ways that were not possible a few years ago. Analyzing, enhancing, and understanding video and audio evidence effectively, however, means knowing what to look for and what techniques are going to be the most advantageous for a particular case.

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Police Chase Leaves Cow Dead, Attorneys Prep For Bovine Clients

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Officer pursuing escaped cow during slow-speed chase

Officer pursuing escaped cow during slow-speed police chase

Attorneys should be on the lookout for a slew of new bovine clients.

Police Officers in Pocatello, Idaho shot and killed a 1,000 pound escaped cow last week. Allegedly, the cow had liberated herself from Anderson Custom Pack, a meat processing business at 3080 North Main Street in Pocatello. An employee stated that he was preparing to slaughter the animal when it bounded over a six foot tall fence, seeming with a desire to again taste freedom.

Eye witnesses called 911 as the at-large cow made its way through several neighborhoods while leading officers on a prolonged slow-speed police chase throughout the city. Some of the chase was even caught on amateur video. At this time NCAVF has not yet been contacted to evaluate or enhance the video footage.

It was shortly after her escape, that the cow began her rampage. In a desire to milk her new found freedom, the cow rammed two Pocatello Police vehicles, an animal control truck, and caused several traffic collisions. It then charged through a playground on Hawthorne Road as well as through residential neighborhoods adjacent to Hawthorne. It was at this point, fearing for the public’s safety, that police decided that lethal force was indeed warranted.

The order to fire was given. Having cornered the cow in the backyard of a residential home off of Quinn Road, one officer did manage to shoot the cow in the head. This, however, only seemed to solidify the resolve of the cow as she bolted past officers and continued to give chase.

The pursuit continued to weave around the residential streets with both police and animal control units hot on her tail. Having decided that she was not going to be taken alive, the cow again allowed herself to be corned in a backyard off of Henderson and Jesse Clark Lanes. After a brief, but albeit intense standoff, an officer fired once, again striking the cow in the head. This time, she died instantly.

Police and animal control units loaded the cow’s body onto a truck where it was brought back to Anderson Custom Pack. Currently, it is unclear if efforts to reach the cow’s family have been successful and so far, there is no word as to whether or not her family will be seeking restitution through the courts.

In lieu of flowers, residents of Pocatello are encouraging folks to eat more beef.


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Attorneys face avalanche of audio and video evidence

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photo 6 CROPPEDAttorneys, are you ready for the avalanche of audio and video evidence?

Your next case may require a new strategy. Will you have the knowledge you need to best handle video surveillance evidence when it arrives on your desk?

For the last couple of years NCAVF has been saying that body worn cameras will inevitably become standard for police officers. It seems that every time there is a high profile, political storm about a particular incident involving surveillance or smartphone recordings of police, the chief of that police department tries to quiet the storm by saying they will soon be testing body worn cameras on their force.

Today it’s the NYC police department with the death of Eric Garner, and a week ago it was the city of Ferguson with the death of Michael Brown.

So what are the strategies and areas of inquiry when you have surveillance evidence? There are many. Our years of high profile cases and audio and video evidence of all kinds has taught us valuable lessons that we can share with you.

We offer a MCLE California Bar approved class at no cost and taught at your firm, and we also send out email updates only once every three months — because we respect your time you’ll see no other emails from us.

Contact us now to signal your interest to learn via email or to have our MCLE class brought to your firm AT NO COST.

We look forward to serving you.
David Notowitz
President, National Center for Audio and Video Forensics

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