Ferguson Police To Purchase Body Worn Video Systems For Their Officers

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Blue Authority

Being a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri right now is surely not an easy or desired job.

As the country continues to speculate on the death of teenager Michael Brown, many have condemned the Ferguson Police Department and Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who allegedly fired the shots that killed Brown. Some say the officer abused his power and that the shooting was racially motivated. Of course, this is a country where the public has shown time and time again that waiting to hear the facts is not a priority, and judgements are swiftly made solely on nothing more than raw emotions. So often with cases like these the truth comes out weeks or months later and is diametrically opposed to the original stories written in the press.

The latest report out of Ferguson is that Officer Wilson was badly beaten before the shooting occurred and apparently suffered a shattered eye orbital after allegedly being punched in the face Brown. These facts will surely play a key role in court, helping to determine whether or not the shooting was justified.

With so much drama and public outrage, the Ferguson police department is already openly speculating on taking a step that other police departments across the country and the world have made — equipping their officers with body-worn video cameras.

The situation in Ferguson is a perfect example of how crucially valuable these devices could be to both the officers and the public alike — bottom line, if there is a video record of an officers interactions while responding to a call, then there is significantly less debate about what did or didn’t occur. Proponents of this technological trend claim that an important purpose for these devices is to save money on court costs and lawsuits that almost always follow police use of force situations, savings which have statistically been proven true.

This trend of “guilty until proven innocent” mindset that is seemingly always associated with incidents involving police officer use of force is disturbing. We rely so heavily (whether we recognize it or not) on the police. After all, if anything were to ever happen to you in which you feared for your life or the lives of others, what’s the first thing you’re going to do? You’re going to call 9-1-1, because you know that calling 9-1-1 means that, whatever situation you’re in, an officer will jump in his car and speed off to help you — and bring his gun.

Yet, at the very whiff of an officer-related shooting, we immediately condemn the officer and sympathize with the victim, regardless of the circumstances or facts related to the incident. When looking at it objectively and in retrospect for countless cases, it’s as illogical as it is unfortunate that we do this over and over again.

If the Ferguson Police Department does indeed equip their officers with body-worn video cameras, it will undoubtedly strengthen other police department’s plans to do so. And safe to say, it won’t be long before all police officers — from New Jersey to San Diego — wear these devices.

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Facial Recognition Leads To Arrest After More Than A Decade

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In 1999, Neil Stammer was arrested in New Mexico on child sex abuse and kidnapping charges. Once released on bond, he forged a fake passport using the name “Kevin Hodges” and fled to Nepal, where he quietly hid out and posed as an English teacher.

The FBI’s investigation into Stammer’s whereabouts eventually went cold, and Stammer’s face remained on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for the last 15 years — until this month.

Last week, it was announced that Stammer was finally caught and extradited to the U.S., and law enforcement caught him by using a tool that we are sure to see more and more of in the future — facial recognition technology.

Recently, the Diplomatic Security Service, which “protects US embassies and checks the validity of US visas and passports,” began using FBI wanted posters to test out the FBI’s latest facial recognition system, called the Next Generation Identification system (NGI). Eventually, they got a positive match for Stammer’s FBI wanted poster when the system came across the fake-Kevin Hodges passport photo, finally bringing the criminal to justice more than a decade later through advances in technology.

“He was very comfortable in Nepal,” said FBI special agent Russ Wilson. “My impression was that he never thought he would be discovered.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties group that has brought several lawsuits against the FBI over the years, reports that the FBI’s NGI database contained nearly 16 million images in 2013, and is projected to contain roughly 50 million images by 2015. The database also reportedly stores fingerprints, iris scans and palm prints.

It’s important to note that facial recognition software has been shown to be most effective when it is based on comparing images that have been taken under ideal circumstances — that is, pictures in which the person is looking straight into the camera, with their whole face properly exposed, just as you’d see in any drivers license or passport photo. The technology is significantly less efficient when it cannot clearly see a face that is squared up to the camera, for example as in surveillance camera footage, in which the camera is often attached to the ceiling and pointing down at an unusual angle or in which the camera has captured events at night.

We still have a ways to go before a surveillance camera can pick someone out of a crowd and identify them using facial recognition software. But situations like this one will ultimately prove key to fine-tuning the technology.

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Police Surveillance Network in San Diego Needs Oversight

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A surveillance-mapping effort is underway in San Diego to make the city safer, according to the San Diego Police Department. But some residents are worried that a lack of oversight makes the on-going project a clear violation of privacy.

The goal of the project is for law enforcement officers to be able to view crimes while they are in progress. So in order to be able to do this, the SDPD is using government and city-owned surveillance cameras that are already in place, and also encouraging local business in the downtown area to volunteer their camera systems, effectively creating a surveillance network of both public and private cameras that officers can actually access live in their squad cars.

A tumblr has been set up that shows the location of the cameras that are up and running so far, which currently numbers around 40. Hotel Indigo, located in San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp District, was the first to allow police to share their surveillance feed.

However, the main issue is whether or not there are proper (and transparent) guidelines in place that determines the rules for using this surveillance network. The SDPD claims that there are, and even posts on their website that they, “…have procedures in place that allow the viewing only when summoned to the Hotel Indigo (or any additional partner) for a service call.”

A San Diego resident named Jeff Hammett decided he wanted to see said procedures, so he filed a public records act to obtain them. His efforts were unsuccessful, however, because according to the response he received from the SDPD, the procedures don’t exist. They wrote, “There are no responsive documents for your request to any copies of procedures regarding viewing these camera feeds. Operation Secure San Diego is still in the development stages. There are no procedures at this time.”

This is disconcerting, seeing as the Hotel Indigo has been, according to UT San Diego, sharing their surveillance feed with the police since 2010, meaning that for four years now, there has been zero oversight to identify possible violations of privacy. The article did say that police are only allowed to view the streaming footage live and that they are not allowed to record any of it. However, with no oversight in place, clearly no one is around to enforce such a “rule.”

Increasing use of surveillance has upset many citizens who value their privacy. Although there are public safety benefits with utilizing a widespread surveillance network, the public will be suspicious of these programs until there are transparent protocols in place and open discussions regarding their use.

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Boston Bombing Leads to New Tool in Digital Investigations

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This past April, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office in California made history by becoming the first law enforcement agency in the country to utilize a new system of investigating and storing mass amounts of digital surveillance materials, a concept that will very soon become standard at law enforcement agencies across the country and the world.

According to GCN.com, while investigating riots in Isla Vista, CA, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s used what’s called a LEEDIR — that’s, Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository.

The idea is simple enough — in the event of a large-scale, public incident, a cloud-based digital system is set up for the public to upload various pieces of video, audio or still-images. Then, once in the cloud, a law enforcement agency can sort through and investigate every piece of uploaded evidence.

The concept of a LEEDIR has its’ roots in the tragic aftermath of last years Boston Marathon bombing, in which thousands of Boston citizens and marathon attendees submitted hundreds of thousands of pictures and video of the horrific scene that occurred at the finish line of the race to the Boston Police Department. Originally, Boston Police had encouraged people to do this, but once the materials started flooding in, they realized very fast that they were in over their heads as far as having the capability and manpower to sort through all of the materials. The FBI promptly stepped in, assigning some of the best audio and video forensic experts in the country to scour through the countless pieces of evidence, working hand-in-hand with Boston PD. In the aftermath, after the two bombers were caught successfully by utilizing these audio and video forensic experts, law enforcement agencies realized that they needed a more efficient, organized system when it comes to sorting through massive amounts of media-materials.

The key issue here is that most local law enforcement agencies simply don’t have the computing capacity to deal with massive amounts of digital files. Add to that the fact that we now live in a day and age where anything and everything can be digitally captured by anyone with a smartphone (i.e. everyone), and it’s not hard to understand that a local police department would very easily be overwhelmed by the amount of materials they could receive from an incident that happened in a public area.

To utilize a LEEDIR, a law enforcement agency has to meet two pieces of criteria: They can only set one up for an event in which at least 5,000 people were in attendance, and the event must involve multiple jurisdictions. Once those two pieces of criteria are met, a law enforcement official must then visit LEEDIR.us, fill out a questionnaire, answer the confirmation phone call, and at that point, the system will be up and running.

The next step (and most important step) is making the system available to the public through a simple uploading app that can be used on any computer or smartphone. Once materials are uploaded, the system automatically copies them into a single format for viewing, and saves the original so it does not get altered in any way. Then, a team of analysts sort the various pieces of materials into separate folders — for example, one folder may contain all images or videos of people wearing white hats, while another folder may contain only images or videos of people wearing bookbags.

Finally, once all the materials are uploaded and sorted, investigators begin studying each and every piece of evidence. And the system is built so that multiple approved agencies can have access to it. When the investigation is over, the agency can download the entire system of evidence, or choose to pay and store the files long-term on the system.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is currently in the process of developing a LEEDIR with Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) cloud service, and CitizenGlobal, an existing storehouse for digital videos and images.

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NCAVF is moving to bigger and better! (Change of address announcement)

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Dear Friends,
As of today, NCAVF has moved into a new location. Please update your info, and we look forward to having you visit us in our new digs. OLD ADDRESS: 9701 West Pico Blvd., Suite 207, Los Angeles, CA 90035.

NEW ADDRESS: 9230 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 204, Beverly Hills, CA 90212

We’re excited to use our new location to provide better service to our attorneys, private investigators, and individual clients to enhance and clarify their audio and video evidence for court.

Our mailing address, P.O. Box 67704, stays the same, as will our phone numbers and email.
All the best,
David Notowitz

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Company Captures 1.8 Billion License Plate Images — And Will Never Erase Them

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Automatic License Plate Readers, or ALPRs, are controversial surveillance devices that can scan countless license plates and store the information. We usually assume city governments and law enforcement departments would be the ones with access to these devices, but in Texas, a private company is utilizing ALPRs in order to “revolutionize the repossession industry.”

Digital Recognition Network (DRN), based out of Fort Worth, has accumulated a network of over one thousand ALPRs across the country over the last six years. Based on this, according to CBS, “Chances are better than 50-50 that (DRN) at some point has taken a picture of your vehicle’s license plate. The odds increase to nearly 100-percent if you live in a major city or have ever gone to a shopping mall, according to the company.”

“Our technology really replaces the eyeballs of those people hanging their heads out of the windows,” says DRN CEO Chris Metaxes. And he’s not lying — DRN’s devices can scan about 60 license plates a second! And seeing as most of these devices are mounted on tow trucks, safe to say, the company has captured quite a lot of plate numbers — 1.8 billion to be exact. In comparison, “among local police departments, the Grapevine Police Department has the largest database of license plate reads with 4.7 million records.” And while most departments clear their databases after a year or so, DRN has never deleted their records in six years.

 Although some claim this is an invasion of privacy, DRN counters that by saying that they only collect plate numbers and not names. However, when a plate is scanned, the date, time and location are also recorded, and seeing as banks are known to pay lots of money for this information, it’s not too hard to add the extra step after-the-fact of associating names with the plate number.

One can’t help but think it’s a somewhat scary concept when private firms start using surveillance techniques that are used by the government and law enforcement. But until either federal or state laws start to restrict or prohibit this practice, there unfortunately is not much everyday citizens can do other than to continue to fight for our right to privacy.

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Wide Area Surveillance Secretly Tested in Compton, CA

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The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) recently listed the top seven mass surveillance tools being used by law enforcement, and through their research, uncovered that the city of Compton, California was secretly used as a trial location for a nine-day aerial surveillance program in 2012 — without notifying any citizens or even the mayor, Aja Brown.

The CIR classifies the program as an example of “wide-area surveillance,” which in this case, involved a manned Cessna plane (as supposed to a drone). For nearly two weeks, the plane “…recorded low-resolution images of every corner of the 10.1-square-mile city and beamed them to the local Sheriff’s Department station.”

During that period, deputies are reported to have observed incidents including “fender benders, a string of necklace-snatchings and a shooting.” However, this type of surveillance is different in that not only were deputies able to watch the streaming video footage in real-time, but they also had the ability to pause and rewind. A reporter at CIR, G.W. Schulz, describes it as “Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.”

The company that conducted the program, Persistent Surveillance Systems, claims that the surveillance footage was so low-resolution that, “…each individual appears as a single pixel — or nearly discerning enough to detect race, sex and other distinguishing characteristics,” according to Ross T. McNutt, the company’s president.

As for the concerned citizens who feel their privacy was intruded upon, the Sheriff’s Department feels justified in not notifying the public, seeing as citizens already had a sense that they were being monitored due to the fact that the city had recently installed several surveillance cameras on the ground.

Compton, which has long had a reputation for being crime-ridden, plans to install roughly 75 surveillance video cameras throughout the city in the coming months, at a cost of $2.7 million. The hope is that new surveillance will help deter criminal activities, along with solving crimes that are consistently committed. With that, it would not be surprising if Compton, or other similar cities with crime issues, continues to serve as a testing ground for new surveillance devices and techniques.

Some of the other forms of surveillance that made the CIR’s list include facial-recognition software, license plate scanners (or ALPRs), and streetlights that can record both video and audio.

As more and more of these militaristic forms of surveillance become available to local law enforcement departments, the debate as to their use and legality will continue to be discussed.

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Police in Georgia Experimenting with GoogleGlass

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Police departments across the country have begun to test and equip their officers with body-worn video recording devices.

But officers at the Byron Police Department in Georgia got to take part in a rare and exciting unprecedented technological experiment: This past September, BPD officers participated in a one-day field study using GoogleGlass in the field, and their results will surely serve as a case-study in how this groundbreaking new video technology can greatly benefit police duties.

By live-streaming the Google Glass footage to the CopTrax system, an integrated in-car video display system specifically made for police squad cars, officers were able to efficiently perform their duties without any hindrance or interference from the Google Glass.

Participating officers put the Google Glass/CopTrax systems through four tests, all of which would be considered routine in a normal day for a patrolling officer — First, officers conducted a standard vehicle patrol while wearing the Google Glass. Second, they performed several traffic stops. Third, officers made an arrest wearing the glasses, and fourth, officers fired both their pistols and rifles to see if the Google Glass affected their accuracy.

In the end, there were no complaints from any officers regarding performing their duties while wearing the glasses.

“Google Glass was not an impairment at all,” said Sgt. Eric Ferris, one of the BPD participants. “You don’t even know it’s on.”

The only issues that were raised were technical issues, most notably that the battery life for the glasses is fairly short. Also, the fact that Google Glass is currently for the right eye only could hinder those who are left-side dominant.

However, one of the technological benefits in linking Google Glass to the CopsTrax system is that the live-streaming footage from the glasses can not only feed into patrolling squad cars, but also to smartphones and tablets.

“Google glass works great being paired to the CopTrax Android app,” said Lt. Bryan Hunter, who supervised the September field test. “Being able to see the same thing the officer sees at the same time is awesome.”

As Google Glass becomes more readily available and affordable to the public, it’s safe to say that we will see more police wearing them in time.

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On-going Trend: City Surveillance Cameras Failing

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In Hoboken, New Jersey, failure to provide proper maintenance to city-owned surveillance cameras has led to an unfortunate stall in the investigation of a missing jogger.

NBC New York is reporting that 27-year-old Andrew Jarzyk went missing after going on a late night jog, and surveillance cameras that would have captured him on video near the city’s waterfront have reportedly not been working since 2010.

Juan Melli, a spokesman for Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, confirmed that the cameras were disabled four years ago after a contract expired with the company that designed and maintained the network, Packetalk, claiming that the city had a network of 10 surveillance cameras that were not functional. But Packetalk founder Tamer Zachary says, “I know for a fact it’s not 10; it’s absolutely more.”

Zachary says the contract ran from 2004 to 2009, and estimated that the annual costs for maintenance and upkeep were between $30,000 and $40,000.

“They always paid for the cameras through grants but when it came time to pay their maintenance fees, they decided to stop paying,” Zachary said.

Unfortunately, lack of upkeep and maintenance of surveillance systems is a common trend throughout the country, and safe to say, the world. Surveillance cameras are not just a one-and-done purchase: Those who decided to install a surveillance system need to understand that technologies and softwares are constantly changing, and with that, a surveillance system is only effective when it’s being regularly maintenanced, especially when it comes to a large-scale network. But as we’ve seen time and time again, city governments, businesses and individuals alike don’t want to spend the time or money it takes to properly maintain their surveillance networks. And in the end, we all suffer the consequences of this lack of attention, because suddenly when we need the cameras to function, they don’t!

However what’s most disturbing about the situation in Hoboken is that, according to the article, the city recently won a FEMA Port Security Grant that will pay for eight new surveillance cameras to be installed at the waterfront — but what about the fact that these new cameras will need regular maintenance?! The truth is that the city would rather not spend a dime and get a grant to pay for new cameras, then to spend their own money to fix the ones they already have. In the end, it’s temporary fix to a problem that will no doubt show its face again.

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Boston Buses Now Stream Video To Police

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Thanks to a new Homeland Security grant, public buses in Boston are receiving a groundbreaking technological makeover, one of which has never been implemented in any public transportation setting.

According to CBS Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has been awarded $7 million to outfit city busses with new “360-degree lenses embedded in the ceilings and walls,” with some buses equipped with flat screen TV’s for passengers to see the cameras’ feeds. There will even be cameras on the exterior of the buses, however, none of the cameras will be recording any audio.

Although equipping buses with video cameras is not a new idea, the new system in Boston is revolutionary in its streaming capabilities: All the bus cameras will be live-streaming directly to the downtown dispatch Transit Police headquarters, which will allow police to monitor hundreds of buses in real-time. And that’s not all — 80 transit police cruisers are scheduled to be installed with touch screens for officers to look into any bus of their choosing.

“It is pretty amazing. You pull up the camera system, then you already have a description of the suspect. He could be looking at the cameras as you are following the bus,” MBTA Transit Police Officer Luke Sayers said.

As of now, 10 buses are currently outfitted with the new cameras, with 225 scheduled to be outfitted by this coming summer 2014. And although privacy is always an issue with the public when it comes to new surveillance technologies, in this case, it was actually the public that were demanding the cameras. Which makes sense, seeing as Boston is the most recent U.S. city to unfortunately be exposed to the threat of terrorism, following last years Boston Marathon bombing.

“The riders of the MBTA have been asking for cameras for a long time and we think that this will give them confidence that we are doing everything possible to protect them,” said Deputy Superintendent of the MBTA Transit Police Joe O’Connor.

The MBTA says this technology will soon cover more than 70% of bus routes throughout the city.

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