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Can CCTV Systems Help Crisis Management in Mass Shootings?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

As school and mass shootings become more prevalent in today’s society, the question of “How do we prevent this?” is on everyone’s mind. While gun control is the first topic people tend to address when discussing these acts of terror, there is another side to the story that may aide in minimizing the total lives lost in these situations sooner than a gun control reform can. One of the most important purposes of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) video recordings is to secure a predetermined area using video cameras connected to a video recorder, which in turn creates the video surveillance footage (evidence). By using modern technology to allow 911 dispatchers access to these surveillance cameras in emergency situations, we would be allowing the dispatchers to give the first responders accurate, real-time information.

 

So, what can we do? Yes, there are changes that need to be made in not only our society, but in the world as a whole. But, what can we do right now to minimize the total amount of lives lost when the next mass shooting takes place? What can we do to catch these shooters before more damage is caused? How can we aid first responders and investigators in completing their jobs to the best of their abilities with the best resources possible? In short, we use modern technology to monitor and take control of the situation efficiently and accurately.

 

History of Mass Shootings

While mass shootings are becoming more frequent (an average of 7 mass shootings a week in 2017, CNN), they are not new to our culture. The FBI defines a “mass murder” as 4 or more victims in a single incident. The first heavily recorded United States mass murder occurred in September of 1949. Howard Unruh took the lives of 13 people and injured 3 more in the neighborhood of Cramer Hill in Camden, New Jersey. Since that fateful day, the United States has become the country with one of the highest mass shooting rates. Between 1966 and 2018, there have been 150 mass shootings totaling in 1,077 lives lost. Prior to the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas where 18 lives were lost and 30 people were injured, there were 25 mass shootings from the year 1910. Little is known about these early 20th century killings. Twelve of the deadliest shootings have occurred since 2000, with the deadliest occurring just last year in Las Vegas, Nevada where 58 lives were lost and 500 people were injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.

 

CCTV and Modern Technology

CCTV surveillance became widely available in the 1970s. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States. In 2009, Chicago became the “most watched city in the nation” when it linked its estimated 10,000 surveillance cameras with their 911 dispatch center. When a call to 911 comes in, a dispatcher can view a live video of the crime scene as long as it is within 150 feet of a surveillance camera. In the years since Chicago took this initiative, several cities and school districts have followed suit. In 2011, Atlanta, Georgia police began monitoring 100 of the cities surveillance cameras. Atlanta Public Schools gave access to their surveillance cameras to 911 dispatchers in 2014. In 2013, Howard County, Maryland also linked their schools surveillance systems with 911 dispatchers. Near our lab in Rochester Hills, MI, Macomb County is in the process of allowing the Macomb County’s Communications and Technology Center, also known as COMTEC, to gain access to the surveillance systems of all 21 of its school districts.

How does this help in the event of a mass shooting? By 911 dispatchers having access to live surveillance footage, they are able to provide first responders with accurate and efficient information. This will then allow the first responders to draft a “plan of attack” that will quickly eliminate the threat so more lives can be saved. Often, in the midst of a mass shooting, 911 dispatchers receive multiple calls with misinformation. Calls stating multiple shooters are present, the location of the shooter that is not accurate, and even that the shooter has left the premises when they in fact have not. With this technology, the dispatcher will be able to quickly see what information received via inbound calls is accurate and what is not.

Surveillance footage is not only helpful during the event, but during the investigation as well. Often, after these tragedies, questions and stories arise of what exactly happened. This is when both CCTV footage and Good Samaritan footage play an integral role. Even if the footage is garbled, pixelated, or otherwise unclear, audio and video forensic experts can enhance the footage so the truth of what transpired can be revealed.

 

So, what can you do?

Talk to your schools principals, district superintendents, local law enforcement, city and state officials, news outlets, local business and neighbors. Educate them about the importance of CCTV technology and how it can help in emergency situations. Educate yourself on what steps to take if you or a loved one find yourselves in the midst of a mass shooting. Get involved in discussions, don’t sit on the sidelines. Express the importance of alternative solutions to the gun control law regulations and/or political arguments. The solutions expressed in this article are simple to understand and easy to express from the lay persons perspective. You may even find yourself having a conversation with an expert that would find this information valuable.

The Importance of Establishing a Chain of Custody for Audio/Video Evidence

Friday, February 19th, 2016

chain of custodyEstablishing a chain of custody for audio and video evidence is the first step in any audio or video forensic investigation. This includes audio/video forensic enhancement, audio/video authentication. Where did the evidence come from? Who created the recording that is being entered into evidence?

A chain of custody is the documentation of who did what to evidence and when was it done. A chain of custody includes people, dates, places, activity and the recording of that information to establish the chain of custody. What has been done since the evidence was created? The chain of custody refers to both digital and analogue audio or video evidence.

The chain of custody for a piece of evidence is important to the legal community because it adds credibility to the audio/video evidence. However, it is common for law enforcement and others in the legal community to often overlook establishing a chain for audio/video evidence. It’s not because of neglect but more often due to lack of training or understanding the importance of the process.

Unfortunately, audio/video recordings are sometimes entered into evidence without documenting the evidence recovery process. When this is the case, if both parties agree that the evidence is acceptable, and tamper free, the audio/video recording is established as the ‘original’ and the chain of custody begins there.

An audio/video chain of custody begins with the evidence recovery process. This is the process of forensically removing the original audio/video recording from the recorder that created it. Based on our experience at Primeau Forensics, once both parties in a criminal or civil litigation agree on an original, they request each side’s forensic expert to establish a protocol for recovering the audio/video evidence. This protocol is written step by step instructions created by one of the experts, then negotiated and or modified and revised until the protocol is established.

Over the last 32 years practicing as lead expert at Primeau Forensics, Ed Primeau has worked with evidence recordings from client lawyers who received recordings from the police. Whenever evidence is not retrieved personally, the police reports, depositions, and other court documents that accompany the evidence must be carefully read to understand how it was acquired. This paper trail must establish a timeline; a chronological listing that accounts for the recovery, custody, transfer and storage of the evidence because the lack of an established chain of custody can easily overturn a conviction on appeal.

8: How to Give an Expert Deposition

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

depositionDepositions are one of the most important activities performed by forensic experts, second only to the final testimony.  A deposition is the process where the opposing lawyers question the forensic expert, under oath, about what they are going to testify during trial.  These questions are designed for the opposing lawyer to gain information about the investigation that the forensic expert performed, to learn what the expert would testify about in court.

Just like testifying in court, it is very important for the forensic expert to prepare beforehand for the deposition.  Carefully sifting through his or her investigation with a fine tooth comb, and reviewing all investigative notes can make a large difference on their success when being deposed.  The forensic expert should also work with their client lawyer directly to learn what information the opposing lawyer will be most interested in and how to properly express their answers.

Ten Tips for Giving a Good Deposition

  1. The forensic expert should dress professionally.  I always wear a suit and tie when being deposed.
  2. The expert should only answer the questions that are asked.  They should avoid elaborating too much on their answers in order to avoid giving away too much information.
  3. The forensic expert should always prepare with their client lawyer.  The lawyer will always know more about the case and what information should be shared.
  4. The expert should be aware of anyone attending the deposition remotely and make sure to make eye contact with him or her through the camera being used in the system.
  5. The forensic expert should speak clearly so the court reporter can accurately type everything they say during the deposition.  Sitting close to the court reporter if possible can greatly help.
  6. The expert should always obtain a copy of the transcript to make sure all of the information is accurate.
  7. The expert should arrive early to the deposition.  They may not know the location well and allowing extra time can save the expert from being late.
  8. The expert should bring a current copy of their curriculum vitae to make sure that it is presented as part of the deposition.
  9. The expert should have all of their notes ready in front of them as well as their forensic report.  Any evidence that needs to be presented should be ready as well.  If evidence needs to be presented from a computer, the expert should make sure that it is working properly beforehand.
  10. Finally, the forensic expert should practice their deposition.  Even beyond rehearsing with their client lawyer, the expert should go through all of their notes and reports prior to being deposed.  They should spend time the night before double-checking all of their information to ensure they are ready for the deposition.  More often than not, this can make a difference in the deposition.

Listen in with Audio and Video Forensic Expert Ed Primeau as he discusses how to properly prepare for and give a good deposition.

7: Importance of the Chain of Custody for Digital Media Evidence

Monday, October 27th, 2014

chain of custodyEstablishing chain of custody when authenticating digital media evidence for use in the courtroom is extremely important. The chain of custody must account for the seizure, storage, transfer and condition of the evidence.  The chain of custody is absolutely necessary for admissible evidence in court.

Importance to the expert

My forensic software allows me to look at the metadata or digital information of an audio or video recording, but does not always allow me to understand how a recording was created.  Just because the information is missing from the metadata does not mean that a recording has been compromised.  This is why the chain of custody information is important to a forensic examiner. It helps show where the file came from, who created it, and the type of equipment that was used.  That way, if I want to create an exemplar, I can get that equipment, create the exemplar and compare it to the evidence to confirm the file properties.

Importance to the court

When I testify in court with a piece of evidence, I am always prepared with the chain of custody.  As I mentioned earlier, without a complete chain of custody, it can become very easy for the opposing attorney or prosecutor to challenge or dismiss the evidence presented.  Having a complete chain of custody form, as well as any other accompanying forms and including any visual proof of retrieval, such as pictures or video, greatly helps prove the authenticity and admissibility of the evidence in the courtroom.

Recently, new ways of establishing a chain of custody have come about and are slowly becoming accepted in the legal community.  Online services are now available for digital evidence that record the chain of custody and who has received the evidence.  The evidence is stored in cloud space and eliminates the need for repeated transference of physical copies.  It maintains standardized security procedures and is also useful as a backup storage space for surveillance cameras.

Chain of custody is important to the court because if I find something wrong with the evidence during the authentication process, it allows me to go back and determine who was responsible for the evidence up until that point. 

Importance to the investigation

The chain of custody is important to the investigation process because it is the first step when authenticating digital audio and video evidence.  Identifying this chain of custody provides information about whether or not this evidence has been copied or cloned.  As technology advances and becomes more accessible, digital media evidence has become easier to edit, modify and alter.  The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE & IOCE) defines Original Digital Evidence as, “Physical items and the data objects associated with such items at the time of acquisition or seizure.”  It is not always possible to receive the evidence from its original source at the time of acquisition or seizure.  Very often, I receive digital media evidence from a client who may have received it from the police or another source.  When this occurs, I have to pay careful attention to the reports, depositions and other legal documents that accompany the evidence.  This paper trail must be part of an unbroken timeline that shows exactly where the evidence has been between its creation and my examination of it.  When I encounter any gaps in this timeline that can raise questions to the authenticity of the evidence, further investigation becomes necessary.

There are occasions when I am asked by the client to physically retrieve the evidence directly from the recorder that created it.  This process creates the chain of custody for my investigation.  When an expert creates the chain of custody, it removes all doubt as to the authenticity of the evidence.   This process has become more common throughout my investigations when the original evidence is available for my retrieval.  To further authenticate this process, I create audio and video recordings of the retrieval process, which becomes part of the chain of custody. In addition, when I am at the site and I retrieve the digital evidence, I have access to the administrator information about that evidence, such as an administrative log, date and file info, and who accessed the files.  The more information an expert can retrieve strengthens the authentic chain of custody that is created.

Primeau Forensics’ chain of custody process

  • Save original package materials
  • Take photos of physical evidence
  • Take screenshots of digital evidence content
  • Document date, time and any other information of receipt
  • Ingest a bit for bit clone of digital evidence content into our forensic computers
  • Perform a hash test analysis to further authenticate working clone

All of the above information outlined in our forensic procedure for creating a chain of custody is important and necessary to include when creating a forensic report.

When examining digital media evidence, especially digital audio and video recordings, you should never examine the original file.  Always make sure that when you process a piece of evidence, you work on the copy of that file so that the original remains untouched at all times.  That way, if you have to go back to compare your work product to the original, you’ll have that original file preserved.

It doesn’t matter what forensic science you are an expert in.  The chain of custody is always important.  Maintaining that chain of custody is crucial for the credibility of your work product and eventual testimony.

6: Continuing Education as a Forensic Expert

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

continuing educationAs a forensic expert, continuing your education in your field of expertise is extremely important in remaining a credible forensic expert.  I practice audio and video forensic work and at the rate that technology is evolving, it’s important for me to stay up to date on all of the latest advancements in the field. This is not exclusive to digital media forensics.  New developments are made in all areas of expertise.  Being an expert witness requires you to have current and accurate knowledge in your field of expertise.

When an expert witness is first called to the stand in a courtroom, their client lawyer will begin with the direct examination.  During this, the lawyer will ask questions that establish the expert witness’s qualifications and credentials.  After the direct examination, the opposing prosecutor or attorney will question the witness and challenge them as an expert witness.  The more experience and credentials you have in your field, the harder it becomes for the opposing attorney to disqualify you as an expert witness. Certifications and diplomas are documented proof of your relevance and credibility as an expert in your field.

Get involved in organizations related to your field.

I am a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute and am on the advisory board of Recorded Evidence.  We help determine the qualifications for Audio Forensic Experts and are currently updating the test to become certified.  It is extremely important be forward thinking when managing your career as a forensic expert.  Its not enough to be status quo when you are a forensic expert. You have to have the most accurate and up to date knowledge and be able to apply that knowledge to remain a credible forensic expert.

Now listen in with Audio and Video Forensic Expert Ed Primeau as he discusses the importance of continuing your education in your field as a forensic expert.

Establishing a Chain of Custody for Audio and Video Evidence

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

chain of custodyAs a Registered Investigator and Certified Forensic Consultant in audio and video analysis, I am often called upon to testify as an expert witness for either the prosecution or the defense. My job is to offer an authoritative analysis of electronic evidence, introduced in the form of audio or video recordings. The content of my testimony is twofold, interpretation and authentication. I interpret and clarify the recordings, and I authenticate the identity of those individuals seen and heard. But I must also authenticate the evidence as evidence. Has this recording been tampered with? Is the recording I examined the original or a copy? Through whose hands has this recording passed before and after it reached me? Where and how has it been stored?

The answers to these questions may determine the admissibility of the electronic evidence, and ultimately, whether a defendant is found guilty or innocent. Establishing and maintaining an unbroken chain of custody is vital. Without it, the evidence and my testimony, no matter its probative value, may be successfully challenged and ruled inadmissible. According to the online IT Law Wikia, chain of custody is defined as “a process that tracks the movement of evidence through its collection, safeguarding, and analysis lifecycle by documenting each person who handled the evidence, the date/time it was collected or transferred, and the purpose for the transfer.”

I always make a video recording of my process/investigation when I retrieve evidence. For example, if the video evidence is on a digital video recorder, I travel to the DVR and personally retrieve the evidence myself. The video I record of my retrieval process effectively establishes a chain of custody. Of course, I follow the same procedure when I personally retrieve an audio recording.

However, there are many instances where I obtain evidence from lawyers who, in turn, receive recordings from the police. Whenever I do not retrieve the evidence personally, I must carefully read the reports, depositions, and related documents that accompany the evidence I receive. This paper trail must support the construction of a timeline, an unbroken, chronological listing that accounts for the seizure, custody, transfer, storage, and condition of the evidence. The timeline must be free of any gaps, periods of time during which the exact custody and location of the evidence cannot be accounted for. A weak link in the chain of custody can easily overturn a conviction on appeal, so I am always prepared for chain of custody questions when I testify.

A typical chain of custody form includes blank text fields that allow for the entry of the following: Case Name and Number, Type of Evidence, Evidence Initially Procured (Where, By Whom, Date & Time), Manufacturer and Serial Number of Media Device and/or Media, and a table listing Evidence Inventoried By (Name, Date, Time, ID), Evidence Released By (Name, Date, Time), and Evidence Received By (Name, Date, Time).

As I mentioned earlier, there are actually two chains of custody when considering electronic evidence: the physical recording itself and the data it holds. With the proliferation of home computers capable of desktop audio and video editing, there has been an increasing incidence of tampering with recordings before they are collected as evidence. I can usually spot recordings that have been altered very quickly, once I begin my electronic analysis.

Slowly gaining acceptance with law enforcement, security companies, and the legal community are online services that maintain and track the chain of custody of electronic evidence, which is stored in the cloud. Particularly useful for the archiving and storage of video from body cams, vehicle cameras, and surveillance cameras, these services hope to modernize the handling of electronic evidence by eliminating the repeated transference of physical evidence, maintaining standardized security procedures, and providing easy access to the content of electronic recordings.

Forensic Experts Are Worth The Investment

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

CCTVWhen introducing a new litigator to audio and video forensics, I like to use the analogy of car repair. You can have your car repaired by a corner or back yard mechanic that charges forty dollars an hour. It might take that back yard mechanic ten hours to fix the problem. OR, you can take your car to the dealership which charges seventy five dollars an hour and have it repaired in two hours. The difference is in the experience and credibility. The dealership will also take the time and explain what needs to be repaired and provide options and an understanding of the repair process. The dealership’s experience with and knowledge of that make and model of the car saves them time making the repair and helps you the customer better understand the nature of the problem.

The same is true regarding a forensic expert. Forensic experts have experience with each forensic academic and can save litigators time and money when it comes to understanding forensic evidence and investigations.
Primeau Forensics is a vehicle for you to get answers to the questions you have about your multi-media evidence that is being used in litigation. As an audio and video forensic expert, I often find that courts, lawyers, and litigators get confused as to the purpose and the validity of their forensic evidence—which is where we help. Today there are dozens of CCTV digital video formats and audio recordings everywhere that contribute to evidence. That information needs to be simplified and better understood by courts and litigators.

Primeau Forensics is a growing forensic organization. It will soon include Internet forensics, security forensics, cell phone forensics, smart phone forensics, and other related multi-media forensic services. Audio and video is being recorded everywhere, not just CCTV (closed on circuit television systems) and police car dash cameras. Audio and video is used more today in litigation than ever before. Knowing some simple facts about your audio and video evidence from a forensic perspective is extremely important to you and the decision makers. Primeau Forensics is here to help. We welcome any questions, comments or feedback either by email– primeauforensics@gmail.com or by phone–(800) 647-4281.

 

 

 

 

 

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