Former FBI Analyst on Retrieving Surveillance Video

By: IPVM Team, Published on Feb 26, 2014

"When a robbery would happen police used to be able to show up, hit eject on the VCR, break the write protect tab on the tape and bag it. Now an officer shows up on the scene and may not have had any training on a DVR and then if they do have training on a specific model, it doesn’t mean they will be able to recover video from every system in their jurisdiction."

Former FBI forensic analyst Jimmy Schroering [link no longer available] left government work to co-found DME Forensics, a company to train law enforcement in video forensic analysis directly and through LEVA. We talked with Schroering about the key problems in retrieving surveillance video.

Patrol Officers Should be Trained to Pull Video

Detectives and forensics teams usually have more experience pulling video, but Schroering feels that it’s important that rank and file police officers learn to export video from a variety of systems.

Schroering trains officers on a variety of systems, but he says it's their methodology that is the most important. Officers should be taught what kinds of things they should be looking for, not specific systems.

“If you teach them a specific system, you’re not giving them the troubleshooting skills to work with a system they haven’t been exposed to,” he said. “They need to know what they need to document and the general hierarchy of steps you want to go through."

Seizing a System Should be a Last Resort

The problem with law enforcement who haven’t had any kind of video recovery training, Schroering says, is that they default to the old school way of doing things.

“Now breaking the tab and putting the tape in an envelope is taking the hard drive. If they can’t figure out how to take the video on site, they think that’s their best bet ... if you take a hard drive you at least need the system to pull the files off,” he said.

Officers should be taught if they are going to seize the hard drive, then to just seize the whole system, he says.

End Users Need to Know What Exported Video Actually Looks Like

“There are a lot of installers our there who are selling them a dream ... They test the system and show a live view from the DVR, but until you actually try to view recorded footage or download that footage, you don’t know for sure if what is being captured is going to be the final product,” he said. End users should have at least a basic knowledge of how different settings are going to impact the exported video. For example, if a person wants to make sure a system can see a license plate, they need to export the footage to see if they can see a license plate.

“Everyone goes back and fixes their system or adjusts it after an incident,” he said. It’s better to know what you’re working with before an incident happens.

Forensics Guys Want High Quality Video, End Users Want to Keep it Cheap

The more they can get from an end user, the more they have to work with, so it’s understandable that forensics guys want people to record at a higher quality.

“I would much rather have higher quality video with less retention. But it depends on how often you review things ... If you know that you don’t do it often enough then maybe you can't have shorter retention times. It’s always a tradeoff,” he said.

It’s harder for end users to notice a difference in compression on-screen, but it’s hard not to notice in terms of cost, which is why end users stick with more compression.

Hold on to Handbooks and Passwords

These can be extremely helpful for police when trying to figure out how to take footage.

“The systems don’t always work as advertised, but with that manual there are things you can figure out,” he said. Other information end users should keep handy is the contact information for the person or integrator who installed the system. Anything that can help the police get the footage faster.

“They are often going from site to site from your business to the next business, doing these recoveries,” he said.

The Number One Problem With Systems They See

Schroering says the number one problem they see with DVRs is that fans don’t work or don’t work well.

“These things are on 24/7 most of the time. The fans are kind of crucial. If you have it locked in a closet [with poor air circulation] then you run the risk of it just dying,” he said.

Schroering says end users should try and maintain their security equipment like they would computers.

“You’re not going to shove a computer in the ceiling. The cheaper systems are more likely to fail in these circumstances,” he said.

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