Finding the facts in 30 frames per second
Like any piece of new equipment, training officers, supervisors, force investigators and agency heads on the use of body-worn cameras is vital
By Kevin Davis
This article is reprinted with permission from the journal of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).
So your agency plunked down some serious tax-payer funds for body-worn cameras. It may have seemed like a great deal on the front end, with free cloud storage for a couple of years, and maybe even free cameras, but a large agency also has to consider the back-end issues:
- How will a BWC program change the processes of your agency?
- What are the many impacts of the video captured?
- Who is trained to analyze and evaluate use of force incidents and specifically officer-involved shootings?
- What don’t you know about video?
Uploading video for a mid- to large-size agency usually requires increasing a city’s bandwidth. At my agency, we were told that without increases, one shift docking their BWCs would take up the entire city’s internet access. BWC technology requires more than just attaching a USB cable to an existing department PC and hitting upload.
“Tagging” of videos can be aided by smart phone programs, but proper tagging by officers and oversight of such is mandatory. Report number, location address of the incident and records retention categories must be tagged.
As for retention of videos, depending on your state, these are considered public records and are subject to the same legal requirements as written or computer-generated reports. So…misdemeanors are kept for how long after the case is adjudicated? The retention period begins when the case is adjudicated, not when you upload the video. For felonies and violent felonies, there are different retention periods in most states. Is non-evidentiary 90 days in your state? You better know this prior to getting those cool cameras the salesperson sold your chief on.
How about redaction? Are you going to give the entire video on every public records request? What if it contains victim or witness info like SSNs or dates of birth? How are you going to handle those redactions? There is a great software product called Fast Redaction that is a web-based program that can redact faces and easily redact audio (I am not a paid spokesperson by the way). Each license is around $1,500.00. Have you budgeted for that? Don’t think you’ll need it? Wait until those insurance companies find out you video accidents. Wait until the media puts in a request for videos from a shooting.
By the way, how many officers will be assigned to handle the public records requests? Did you know that a large busy agency can produce over 25 terabytes of video in less than six months? Are you contemplating hiring an outside service to handle public record requests for your agency? Is your agency prepared to pay those costs?
Hey, sarge, get ready to add 25% manpower to each complaint or use of force investigation (and 25% is a low estimate). After all, you have to watch the videos of each officer involved to properly evaluate and assess (as an example, a recent OIS produced 43 videos from involved and responding officers). Do you think that a web-based video player will allow you to see all that you need to see?
I’ve worked on multiple officer-involved shootings and use of force analysis; most online players do not have the capability to advance frame by frame or zoom in on the action. Is that something you’ve even contemplated? Do you have the ability to edit videos down to the pertinent sub clip and crop to the important actions of the suspect or officer? Have your supervisors been properly trained in video investigations? Do they know the difference between I, P and B frames and how video is compressed? Do you know the frame rate of the closed circuit cameras in the booking areas of the county jail? How about from a surveillance camera at a business that captured an officer-involved shooting?
Are you aware of how state-of-the-art video analysis is used both for and against police officers? Do you realize that the top video experts are producing PDF reports for court that take the video and break it down into frame by frame reports? At roughly 30 frames per second, that means a five-second video produces 150 jpegs of pictures and action by the suspect or officer that can be broken down by the millisecond. This capability can be used against you, in criminal cases or civil. Is your agency prepared?
Let’s talk about the worst case scenario of an officer-involved shooting or serious use of force incident. Video can help investigators and prosecutors, but running it real time on an online player will seldom give you enough information. Forensic programs like iNPUT-ACE (no affiliation with this company either) with proper training can really elevate your video evidence. With a modicum of knowledge, you can produce sub clips, zoom in on action, incorporate other DVR video from businesses and produce PDF reports. With this software, you can give investigators and prosecutors so much more to work with on the case. By the way, is someone in your agency trained and court certified to testify on use of force video evidence? You’re producing the video evidence, but without the proper expertise, you can miss much of what the digital evidence holds based on a lack of training and software. Cost of one license for iNPUT-ACE? Close to $4,000.00.
Think those videos capture the facts? All they do is record what the camera lens captured. A BWC video is not the entire incident! Videos are a mere part and certainly aid a force investigator if they are properly trained!
And that’s where we’ll end it, like any piece of new equipment, there are pros and cons, but training and education of officers, supervisors, force investigators and agency heads is vital!
Anyone can get a GoPro digital camera and produce some video of their calls for service, but how to interpret, evaluate and analyze the video is something entirely different and that requires specialized training.
About the Author
Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.