Recording a CCTV Monitor – Early Intelligence or Evidential Breach of Process?

A question surrounding the use of Body Worn Cameras to record a CCTV monitor was asked in the Comments over at my Blog on BWC’s..

I know this is happening and have seen the results.

I have also seen the results of screens being recorded on personal smartphones and job issued tablets, such as iPads.

Let me be clear again – there are many circumstances where this is acceptable.

  1. The urgent need to capture and disseminate visual intelligence to aid in the quick recognition of witnesses or suspects.
  2. The need to capture something from a machine prior to conducting a Hard Disk Drive(HDD) removal. Its always good to have a backup!
  3. The urgent need to capture and retain the settings of a DVR and/or camera view.

For points 2,3 – I always recommend using the Video out of the DVR first, and recording that. However I know that this equipment may not readily be available.

The problem though is when something is captured from a monitor and then no efforts are made to retain the original native evidence, according to accepted best practices in Digital Multimedia Evidence (DME) Acquisition. Nowhere, in any document that I am aware of, is there any mention of recording a screen.

If a screen is recorded for initial intelligence and then that ends up being used as evidence, could there be a breach of process argument? If no attempts were made to recover it correctly, perhaps so.

It’s not just evidential integrity – it’s the quality as well. I showed some examples Here, on another recent post.


The damage to the image is known as the Moire effect. Although there are restoration techniques open to analysts, the initial integrity of the image could be called into question.

Rather than link to various Guidance and Best Practice documents – that I will get around to listing at some point, let’s look at it this way…. and this is based upon my experiences rather than documentation!

  • CCTV at Scene >
  • Required urgently >
  • Do not have technical knowledge or equipment to recover >
  • Capture screen with BWC >
  • Verbalise your reason for doing so >
  • Add to dispatch log that attendance must be made by trained personnel with equipment to recover DME evidence >
  • At end of incident, record also the Recorder front panel, back panel and Graphical User Interface. This may aid the person requested to attend for evidential acquisition >
  • Submit (correctly completed) request for attendance by expert immediately and forward copy of your BWC.

Easy…. but it’s not! Why?

The reality is that there are two points in this list that are out of the first responder’s control, but they affect their ability to do the job.

The first is having the knowledge and equipment to conduct the acquisition immediately. Due to the financial restraints put on the Police, have they got the money to send people for training and supply them with access to basic retrieval kits?

Next, is the attendance of an expert to conduct acquisition. Forces understand that they must have CSI’s to recover traditional forensic evidence but are cutting back on CCTV retrieval. Specialist units of every type are being closed or thinned down, in order to save money.

As a result, people are left to run the gauntlet and do their best. Most are aware that it’s not the best solution but are stuck between a rock and a hard place!

It is also worth mentioning that probably half of the requests to attend a digital acquisition could be negated by CCTV and Video Surveillance System owners actually understanding their requirements of use.

UKreqsThis is taken from the old UK Home Office and Police guidelines for Digital CCTV. 7 easy points that every owner should comply with. Again, another reality is that people install and forget… until something is needed. Then they expect someone else to get it….. but I could write a complete article on the battles here!

The comment over on the BWC Post asked me for my thoughts on people using a recording of a CCTV Monitor. Hopefully I’ve made it clear that I believe it acceptable in certain circumstances, but it must always be followed up by the correct acquisition and retention of the original evidential data.

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

3 comments on “Recording a CCTV Monitor – Early Intelligence or Evidential Breach of Process?

  1. Thanks for a very useful post David; it’s a subject which is rarely if ever mentioned, and does extend somewhat into other related areas which are equally overlooked.

    If I may just contribute a few additional points …

    Your observation that screen grabbing CCTV playbacks may be justified under certain circumstances, does highlight the difference between an operational necessity, and a Forensic Surveillance need.

    Both potentially have different specific requirements, but equally they also may well be considered on the basis of differing time scales; your example of an urgent need to obtain intelligence possibly being at odds, with the more considered almost scientific approach needed for evidential purposes.

    One quick point to add to your list regarding the acquisition of CCTV product (which I know you know!), it’s always sensible for the officer attending to check the accuracy of the “live” displayed time on the CCTV system, against a known reading on perhaps a mobile phone.

    I did ask the College of Policing some time back what if any specific CCTV training is routinely provided to operational officers, and the answer sadly was somewhat of the chocolate teapot variety.

    Ideally, it would be good if we could persuade the CCTV Industry to perhaps sponsor some form of training on the subject, as funding is not likely to be forthcoming from conventional sources any time soon. That’s something I may try and discuss with some manufacturers over the coming weeks, but I won’t hold my breath!

    Apologies in advance for referencing my own work, but the image you provided is an interesting example of one that would readily fail performance tests, for compliance of the TRUSTED CCTV Operational Standards (and that’s just on the set up, never mind the moire effect).

    That said, I just did a very quick count up on the number of primary components in the Standards that relate to capture and recovery of CCTV recordings, and depending on the appropriate level, the Silver standard for example (Level 3) has at least 15 specific requirements that must be met by the CCTV User.

    Rather than going the route of trying to put the onus on constabularies to have the capacity to recover ever increasing quantities of mostly poor quality CCTV, the idea of developing CCTV Operational Standards squarely places the responsibility on the CCTV User / Operator to facilitate the recovery of recordings, in an appropriate and timely manner. With the highest level sites, that means they would normally be required to provide recordings to police within 3 hours of a formal request being made.

    So your point about the need for CCTV Users to understand requirements and provide assistance, is absolutely fundamental to driving forward tangible improvements in an environment which is proving to be increasingly challenging, almost by the day.

    All we have to do now is convince CCTV Users that they have a moral responsibility to play their part in operating their systems effectively and responsibly, if the police are to have any chance at all of making best use of the results. No pressure there then!


  2. Pingback: What’s with all the screen snaps? |

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