IACP Quick Take: How to develop police investigator video evidence literacy

A staggering 6 billion hours of video is recorded every hour around the world


By Greg Friese

CHICAGO – Video is the most prolific source of evidence available to police investigators. Three panelists explored the challenges and strategies for using body-worn, in-car, private or public CCTV, and social media video in major crime investigations in a session at IACP 2019. The panelists were:

Investigators need to be able to access, download, view and present in court the video evidence available to them. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Investigators need to be able to access, download, view and present in court the video evidence available to them. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Memorable quotes on video evidence

Here are memorable quotes from the panelists about video evidence and developing video evidence literacy.

“Smartphones are evidence collection systems. If there is a crime in a public place, you can bet there will be video evidence.”

“The biggest challenge investigators have in the video age is access to videos.”

— Grant Fredricks

“If you have video evidence, put it out there on social media for suspect identification. We have 70%-80% suspect identification through local news playing our (CPD) videos. It’s a great tool.”

“We’ve gone from the stone age to the space age by making an investment in the infrastructure to support the investigations. We’ve invested in tools to get and use the video evidence.”

— Michael Chiocca

“Video is being used in almost every investigation. We are living in a digital city (Toronto) of 3 million people.”

“One of the challenges we saw was that the process for collecting and reviewing video was opening us to attacks on collection of the evidence. We needed to develop a forensically safe environment for investigators to work with video evidence.”

“We want to develop video literacy for all investigators, officers and support personnel with consistent tools to collect video and consistent strategies for storing video.”

— Darryl Branker

Top takeaways on video evidence literacy

Each panelist shared experiences, resources and lessons learned on using video evidence for homicide investigations. Here are four top takeaways from the presentation.

1. Prepare for a massive amount of video evidence

Fredricks opened the IACP session with statistics about the massive amount of video recording devices and systems in the U.S. and worldwide. According to data presented by Fredricks, there are:

  • 40 million professionally installed video recording systems in the U.S. in 2019;
  • 224 million smartphones in the U.S. in 2019;
  • 98 million network surveillance cameras worldwide;
  • 29 million CCTV surveillance cameras worldwide;
  • 400,000 body cameras worldwide.

A staggering 6 billion hours of video is recorded every hour around the world. Those recordings include crimes, as well as the time before and after the crime, and often from multiple angles and in a smattering of video file types.

Investigators need to be able to access, download, view and present in court the video evidence available to them. It’s also important for investigators to understand the types of video evidence, file formats and the metadata, such as frame rate, that accompanies each video file.

2. Dedicate space and personnel

Branker and Chiocca described the efforts of their departments to improve video evidence use.

The Chicago Police Department has partnered with the University of Chicago Crime Lab to open three Area Technology Centers (ATC), with additional centers scheduled to open. The focus of ATC personnel, a detective and two patrol officers, is clearing homicide case files. Each ATC has created a dedicated workspace for processing video evidence and displaying videos for team viewing.

The Toronto Police Service has developed a forensic video analysis unit of six officers within the homicide division. The unit is developing a collaborative approach for accurate video collection, authentication and examination that is consistent with law enforcement standards, as well as procedures on how to present to court.

3. Train investigators on use of video evidence

Similar to other types of evidence handling, investigators need to receive specific training on video evidence management. The focus of training needs to be competency for video evidence investigation.

The duration of training at CPD depends on an officer or investigator's role in the CPD Area Technology Center. Training teaches personnel to play video evidence files, extract video evidence from different proprietary video players and systems, distribute video for suspect identification through social media and how to use in-house video evidence databases. Chiocca uses scenarios to introduce personnel to different situations, such as video with a time that is off real-time.

CPD ATC personnel receive 40 hours of training and district technology officers receive 24 hours of training. Chiocca explained that new software rollouts usually require 4 to 8 hours of training and they regularly look to vendors for training how to use video evidence analysis software.

Training also needs to prepare investigators to accurately play video, so it isn’t used against police officers through manipulation in how the video is collected and played back for investigators and the media. To avoid manipulation, Fredricks discussed the importance of accurate timing, alignment of videos from different sources and evaluating the accuracy of depicted motion.

4. Support video evidence with written policies

Chiocca overviewed the CPD special order that established the Area Technology Centers. Its primary components were:

  • Establishes ATC;
  • Provides definitions and guidelines;
  • Provides procedures and responsibilities;
  • Establishes baseline technical procedures;
  • Introduces new forms to be used to document ATC functions.

Learn more about video evidence and investigation

Read these PoliceOne articles to learn more about video evidence and investigation:


About the author

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on PoliceOne, FireRescue1, CorrectionsOne, EMS1 and EfficientGov. He is an educator, author, paramedic and runner. Ask questions or submit article ideas to Greg by emailing him at gfriese@lexipol.com.

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