Pervasive surveillance camera evidence opens doors to innovative synchronization techniques

Video surveillance cameras follow us day and night. We are tracked not only with visual data, but with all kinds of digital footprints that expose our location: Video cameras, audio recording devices, license plate readers (ALPRs), drones, all kinds of internet and phone records gathered by the NSA, satellite images… even high-tech blimps can track us these days!

Privacy-issues aside, however, there is one benefit to this constant surveillance state that we find ourselves in: more and more crimes are being captured on video camera, and increasingly, they are being captured by more than one camera. And juries who comment about seeing this audio and video evidence in trial increasingly state that it is this digital media evidence which has been a decisive factor in their decision of guilt or innocence.

This means that sometimes there are two or more camera angles of an incident. Even if there is a second camera angle, one angle of an incident might seem to tell a different story than another angle. When cases involve several angles of surveillance, it is crucial to organize the evidence into the most clear and simple presentation to a jury. Our clients often consult with us about the best way to organize and present video and audio evidence, but the truth is that every case is different and requires a unique approach. That’s when NCAVF can combine our vast courtroom experience with our experience working in news, film, and documentary production.

Hollywood’s editing tools brought to court of law

When a professional editor sits down to edit a film or a television episode, that person’s job is to arrange the recorded content into a dramatic progression from beginning to end — to give the viewer an experience that is organized and with intention. It’s the editor who gathers individual pieces of footage, recorded from multiple cameras and multiple angles, and assembles the story together for the audience. By syncing up various pieces of video and audio, the editor creates clarity for what originally appeared to be unorganized and incoherent.

In the forensic video world, we use the lessons we have learned in the world of television and film production to give clarity to incidents captured on surveillance security systems, smartphones, 911 calls, and officers’ body worn video and audio systems.

When you have multiple sources of media evidence, each audio or visual piece can help to inform and clarify what is happening within the other. It’s a fascinating forensic process. For example, when surveillance video captures a gun battle, there is often no audio recorded on the surveillance, so you may not be able to determine exactly when guns were fired. You also may not be able to determine how many shots were fired. However, if we can find audio from an officer’s body worn digital audio recorder (DAR), then maybe we can synchronize the officer’s audio with the video surveillance to get clarity on the timing and number of gunshots. Very few video forensic experts are utilizing any form of synchronization as described in this article.

At NCAVF, we helped to pioneer forensic video synchronization of evidence, and it has become something that clients ask us to do. By utilizing this process, we have been able to clarify the details of many cases in a very easy to understand format.