Allowing the Public to decide on the Video Evidence

I thought I would write this here as I have a feeling that I may need to repeat it a few times over various locations and it will save me re-typing.

For many years now I have seen the increase in evidential screen-snaps. This is where an image is being used in evidence that is a photograph of a screen showing an event or image. This is usually a CCTV image.
Whats with all the screen snaps?

Just to clarify – This is not relating to the urgent screen snaps that are obtained in the valuable first few hours of an investigation, where the publics assistance is needed to identify a dangerous suspect. What I am referring to is the ‘easy option’ of grabbing the screen snap, rather than obtaining the evidence in the correct manner.
Why this happens is another post in itself, but it’s mainly due to the complete lack of understanding by the security industry with regards to how surveillance video is used……and this is compounded by the fact that Law Enforcement is ridiculously under funded and they don’t have enough people to deal with the video evidence and deal with it correctly.

At this point then I want to take you back around 12-13 years, where I was highlighting some of these issues at a pretty high level in the UK. As a result, a Proof Of Concept project was funded to identify how we could link and acquire CCTV evidence using remote access, to speed up video evidence acquisition. This would not only avoid poor screen snaps by officers and incorrect evidence obtained from owners not understanding what was required, but also avoid CCTV retrieval officers from travelling to the locations.
Here is the important bit! – We were not going to wait for it to be delivered to us…. we would be the ones recovering it.
Rather than CCTV owners making the evidence decisions, it would be us. They would give us access, that access was recorded and there was a full data trail for monitoring and transparency.

It was a success, and this was even with all the various firefalls and restrictions of police networks. I could recover evidence remotely, with a full evidencable trail.

A few years later this was worked on again but unfortunately this was at a time where funding had completely dried up. It was again shelved.

I now read that the UK Police are developing a repository to accept video evidence from the public..

They appear to be handing the job of evidence recovery to the public. This is, in my opinion, wrong.

Video evidence is easily changed, misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood. The moment it is changed, its integrity and authenticity is reduced. The original pixels, those small little squares of light and color that make up the image, are the evidence. Most CCTV owners don’t know what’s the best evidence, and what they should give to the police.

Let me give you an example….

A CCTV System records its video. The owner accesses the system using his mobile device and saves the video on his device, where he then forwards it to an investigator. It looks OK from the untrained eye.

The received video is dramatically different from the original, with much less data, half the pixels, changes to the field of view and also the timing/speed.

Video Evidence is already an easy target but Defence lawyers will be lining up if we allow evidence recovery to be done by people who don’t know what they are doing.

They appear to be choosing the easy option. Do they do this with any other physical evidence?

I hope that the people involved in this reach out to the few Certified Forensic Video Analysts and Technicians in the UK and ask to be shown what the problem is here.

I can see the job having to be done twice – An owner submits footage, and then someone has to check it and go out and attempt to get it correctly. If its been deleted or lost then what happens? Can decisions be made on a reduced quality format, or has its ability to answer questions been reduced because it was not obtained correctly? ..and if nobody checks it and an attempt to get the best evidence is not made – is that a breach of process?

Lets do it right first time. Is that not the most simplest option?

By Spreadys Posted in EEPIP

4 comments on “Allowing the Public to decide on the Video Evidence

  1. Dave, I totally agree why do it twice?

    I have recently had that exact scenario and lost the original due to the time frame. The owner used the stream copy which he accesses on his phone and emailed that to the oic. By the time it was submitted the original had overwritten. Whilst it was not the worst footage I have seen it was nowhere near as good as it could have been. We had no choice but to use what was provided.

    I know that Digital Evidence Management Systems are coming into many forces, including ours. I know we have been asked questions but if our response is taken into account will be another thing, we have also asked questions but not all have been answered.

    It is unfortunately a reality we are facing and it will be left to us, all the staff who deal with the evidence to resolve the issues. In theory it could work well, but it does have to be done properly and managed correctly.

    Only time will tell.

  2. Does this mean the person who submits the file will be asked to authenticate the file via court testimony too? Maybe the public will have to “accept the terms” before submitting. [Disclaimer; if you are submitting evidence you agree to be willing to speak in front of a judge-jury-crossed-humiliated-blah-blah…] I would think accepting evidence from the public might be very useful for investigations but, complicated if used in court.

  3. David is absolutely correct in his comments above. Even though I have effectively been out of video forensics for the last few years, I began to see this kind of behaviour back when I was still a practicing investor. Recording the output of a computer monitor onto your phone is not just bad practice, it is forensically dangerous and needs to be stopped. Those responsible for gathering video evidence need to be correctly trained. Anything else could potentially lead to a miscarriage of justice.

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