NP Attorney Gary Nolan spent a couple of days last week immersed in training about forensic examination of video evidence. For us, two primary issues with video are (1) use in disciplinary / use of force cases and (2) negotiation of body worn camera policies. Many area police investigators were in the seminar, and it's safe to say most of us were blown away by the potential for video to tell a completely inaccurate story. That is not to say it cannot be very helpful, but storage and replay issues can make the video be extremely misleading. The instructor, a nationally recognized expert/FBI instructor, told us that calling video a "silent witness" is an extremely dangerous concept. We have been challenging such technical issues in cases, but only recently have fact finders begun to question the reliability of video.
For example, did you know that digital video is made up of a series of still snapshots pieced together (think about the old cartoon flip-books)? A surveillance video might take 15 snap shots per second, which is very low and unreliable when trying to determine speed or force, or small movements, etc. The scary thing is that with digital video, many of the snap shots are not actually real, but are computer generated predictions - so it is not uncommon for the image to not reflect reality. Think of the dangers in a use of force case where a prediction frame is missing data of someone moving.
We also learned about how data is compressed for storage purposes, or is significantly altered when playing video on something other than the original software that recorded it (like a VLC player downloaded from the web). Frames and data may be removed from the original, altering speed and appearance. This increases the appearance of force and speed. We were shown a video where a police officer was charged criminally for slamming a suspect's head off of the ground extremely hard and fast. After a public outcry to fire and charge the officer, a forensic video review was conducted. The video was fixed back to its original form - and amazingly showed the officer literally placing the suspect gently onto the ground - and it was clear that the head never even came into contact with the ground. Insane.
I am attaching a recent article from the Int. Assoc. of Police Chiefs addressing some of these issues. A couple of thoughts that occurred to us about bargaining: as a threshold issue, unions should propose that (1) all original data be preserved and produced the union upon request, and (2) that the Department have any such video reviewed and certified as accurate by a forensic video analyst prior to any charging decisions relative to the officer, and in order to be used as evidence against the officer. Anyone who educates themselves as to these issues, including prosecutors and police management, would have difficulty arguing with any of this, as it really protects everyone - police, municipalities and citizens.