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Caught On Video
Cameras, Computers, and Control: Convenience or Conspiracy?

by Edward J Primeau
Primeau Productions Inc.

This article provides an inside look at the ever-expanding role of today’s security cameras and surveillance videos, used as a means of monitoring public activity and protecting citizens. I include a basic overview of the types of surveillance applications and compare their functional capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. I also examine the role of surveillance video in litigation, as well as the many issues that can arise from its use as evidence in legal proceedings. Finally, I offer insight into the ways surveillance videos and other monitoring devices will play an even greater role in the future.

Learning Objectives

This article gives readers an insight into closed-circuit television systems: how they help deter crime as well as secure businesses, institutions, and communities. This article is particularly appropriate for criminal justice personnel, as it introduces the power and potential of video security systems in regard to crime prevention, investigation, and litigation.

Another learning objective is to help readers understand other uses for CCTV systems, in addition to security and crime deterrence. This article also explains the differences between analog and video closed-circuit television systems and provides examples of how CCTV systems are used.

Readers will learn about video evidence and learn how the legal system handles it when necessary. Also discussed is how to preserve the chain of custody for digital and analog video forensic evidence.


Caught on Video
Cameras, Computers, and Control: Convenience or Conspiracy?
By Edward J Primeau

The next time you walk down a city street, take a look around: notice the number of video cameras and motion-activated devices present.  This variety of surveillance devices helps control traffic, regulate complicated machinery, and deter crime.  They’re right there next to the streetlights and traffic signals, and government buildings, police cars, and even shopping malls use video surveillance equipment in many ways.  This same equipment used to control and regulate traffic flow and machinery, however, has been accused of violating our constitutional right to privacy.  This equipment that invades our privacy – while at the same time keeping us safe – is known as Closed Circuit Television Systems, or CCTV systems.  One purpose of CCTV is to regulate, another is to deter.  Is another purpose to keep an eye on our activity?  Interestingly, criminals have become aware of CCTV systems and routinely consider the role of security cameras when planning their tactics.

According to Advanced Security and Communications in Texas, CCTV is a visual assessment tool (“Controlled Circuit TV Reference Guide,” 2014).  Visual assessment refers to proper identifiable or descriptive information during or after an incident.  Items to consider when implementing a CCTV system:

Personal Identification: the ability of the viewer to personally identify specific information or objects in an image or scene, beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Personal identification has two important phases: the relationship of size and detail of an image, and the angle from which the scene is viewed.  Consider both of these aspects carefully to avoid your CCTV system recording things that are hard to understand.

Action Identification: the ability of the system to accurately capture events occurring in front of the camera.  Here, time-lapse video can cause problems.  For example, a digital video recorder, or DVR, with a low-image per second frame rate setting may not record certain images.  A lower frame rate setting reduces storage requirements in hard drives.  The upside is with the cost of hard drive space becoming more economical, digital CCTV systems can be upgraded so the images per second feature increases and more surveillance video is stored for review, should it become necessary.

Another problem in analog systems: when a multiplexer switches between cameras to view different areas under security, an activity could occur at one surveillance area while that camera is off, and another on.  The output of the multiplexer is most always recorded to a time-lapse video tape recorder using ½ inch tape stock or a DVR.

Scene Identification: the ability for a recorded scene to stand on its own merit.  In a building composed of similar hallways, all equipped with surveillance cameras that are positioned at similar angles, how can one hallway be differentiated from another when a security tape is viewed?  Scene identification is an important but often overlooked form of identification vital to effective video systems.

According to Pivot3, Inc.: “There’s no margin for error when it comes to public safety.  Metropolitan police departments all across the country are doing their best to deter criminal activity.  When it can’t be prevented, agencies want to apprehend and help prosecute perpetrators.  With human resources stretched thin, video surveillance has become a critical tool in the war on crime; it puts thousands of extra ‘eyes’ on the street 24 hours a day, seven days a week” (Case Study, 2007).

A Pivot3 spokesperson continued: “Insight Video Net, LLC (IVN) has emerged as a leading provider of digital media software and services to capture and manage video, especially for the public safety market.  IVN has developed software called the Central Management System, or CMS, to store, retain, and manage the video that comes from fixed as well as mobile cameras. CMS makes sense of huge amounts of raw video and turns it into indisputable evidence admissible in court” (2007).

Cameras in public have become a way of life, and we have grown to accept them and become accustomed to their presence.  In a city environment, cameras are connected to a closed-circuit video television system (hence the term CCTV).  This system has the ability to regulate traffic by adjusting traffic signals according to particular conditions.  In law enforcement, video recording systems installed in most police cruisers help bring driving incidents – like drunk driving or traffic stop violations – to court. 

CCTV systems also play a role in healthcare organizations and hospitals.  Medical practitioners rely on CCTV systems to monitor critical care units where patients must be under constant observation.  Video surveillance not only has the ability to deter crime, it also has the ability to control access to areas that have restrictions, such as hospital wards, pharmacies, and surgical centers, as well as the broader and more general ability to record data and measure statistical information over a period of time (York, 2006).

Today, CCTV systems come in many shapes and sizes, from high-tech to low-tech, wired to wireless, to combinations.  Two manufacturers of high-tech systems are Pelco and IVC, while Fairfax Electronics and Safe Mart manufacture less complicated systems.  Pelco has one of the country’s largest CCTV systems installed in Denver, CO.  This Denver system is comprised of hundreds of closed-circuit cameras in dozens of municipal locations, both indoor and outdoor, and all are connected to a large computer that can be monitored from multiple locations.  Insight Video Net, LLC also specializes in multi-site video networks with remote access to live and stored video and equipment activity. 

It is likely, however, that within five years every major city across America will have a surveillance system similar to Denver’s in place, as well as surveillance systems that will require video forensic consultants involved in litigation to help courts understand the evidence being presented.  Further, general surveillance for after-the-fact (forensic) investigations will continue to play a major role in litigation, and the ability to monitor activity for security and non-security purposes will save institutions substantial amounts of money annually.

A spokesperson for West Jefferson Medical Center in Louisiana stated, “through service agreements, a $2.5 million performance contract, and ongoing support, Johnson Controls has helped WJMC reduce operating costs, improve comfort conditions for patients and staff, enable facility personnel to be more efficient, and significantly reduce energy consumption.  In mid-2007, WJMC became the first hospital in Louisiana to earn an ENERGY STAR® from the U.S. EPA.  In addition, Johnson Controls has helped the hospital to improve ventilation, maximize the efficiency of a new central energy plant, manage utility bills effectively, and continuously improve facility management practices.”

Tony W. York, CHPA, CPP, said that “video security is a fabulous tool when it is integrated with door and alarm controls and inventory tagging systems.  Another thing that is really important is the retrieval of the captured video, which provides instant access for those after-the-fact investigations.  I would call it revolutionary (2006).

Concerns over violent crime and civil liability lawsuits have caused schools, large corporations, and small businesses to investigate avenues for securing their operations, and CCTV systems have already become a popular security tool for combating such problems.  Despite the billions of dollars’ worth of closed-circuit television systems in use today, however, CCTV systems do not guarantee crime prevention. 

Video surveillance used as evidence in court also has the potential to prolong litigation, and the protocol involved in procuring and examining it can be costly.  First, motions must be filed in court for an expert forensic examiner of video surveillance to be brought in.  Then, a great deal of administrative work can be involved in coordinating with that expert, who must then travel in order to view the evidence, plus the time it takes for the expert to thoroughly examine it. 

In addition, law enforcement can be reluctant to release video evidence to be examined for fear that it will be damaged or lost in transit.  On top of that, authorities must maintain a chain of custody with video evidence just as with any other type of forensic evidence.  All parties involved in litigation must consider the time and cost this adds to a case.  Often it is the court, public defender’s office, or another branch of government that absorbs these costs in criminal proceedings.  Other times it is the defense, or the plaintiff in a civil matter, who will incur the cost of having forensic video evidence authenticated and admitted into court.

As a video forensic expert, I have testified in cases where analog (VHS) as well as digital video evidence was used.  Both require a different methodology for examination and authentication, and very case I have testified in has been unique.  Each judge has reacted differently to video evidence.

Many courts do not understand video forensic technology, so video evidence is not always seen as legitimate.  In 2005, however, Jim Dwyer reported in The New York Times that “400 court cases were dropped or acquitted because of video evidence contradicting police lies”. 

Courts that accept video evidence supported by an expert are usually those where an experienced trial attorney is involved.  So when presenting video evidence today, whether analog or digital, admissibility boils down to the arguments given by the presenting attorney even though once it’s accepted, video evidence can help a jury understand a crime scene or situation more clearly.

Digital video evidence has a better chance of being admitted in court if standard chain of custody protocol is followed.  Just like other types of evidence, law enforcement personnel are responsible for witnessing the exporting of video evidence and delivering it to police lock-up for experts to examine.  Analog tapes should also be picked up by law enforcement and taken to police lock-up for examination by qualified video forensic personnel.

Often, each party involved in litigation will hire its own video forensic expert.  In criminal cases, police rely on crime labs that employ forensic video experts, while the defense tends to seek outside expert assistance.  The job of both experts is to authenticate and prove admissibility.

Today, closed-circuit, crime scene re-creation, and cruiser traffic stop videos have become important items in court as our legal system as a whole begins to recognize video forensics as a legitimate science.  This has not always been the case.

Unfortunately, those engaged in legal proceedings have in the past altered video evidence in their favor, which is where the science behind video forensics becomes valuable to legal proceedings in addition to the video evidence itself.

There are two recording formats for CCTV systems:
  1. Digital is video recorded onto a DVR, a digital video recorder.  A DVR is similar to a computer’s hard drive.

  2. Analog is video recorded onto a magnetic tape, like a time-lapse VHS tape (it looks like a standard VHS tape but records fewer frames per second to conserve space).

Multiple cameras can be installed at large or small locations.  They may be viewed while they simultaneously record on either analog or digital formats, in systems incorporating multiplexers, tape, and software programs.

More sophisticated systems, such as those sold by the Indianapolis-based manufacturer Pelco, have many adjustments, settings, frame options, and video export options, as well as signal routing features.  The lower-end VHS systems are straightforward and easy to operate but have fewer features and options.  Both systems can incorporate point tilt zoom (PTZ) or steady non-moving cameras.  PTZ cameras can move to follow action both automatically and manually.  Security personnel can direct this activity manually or through the technology of motion-sensing that detects the change in gray scale in the dedicated area.  The PTZ camera is designed to electronically follow motion using small electric motors that move the camera accordingly.

Non-moving cameras are stationary, so they only capture the particular area under surveillance.  The advantage to digital DVR’s is that the quality is far superior to analog, especially when images must be retrieved for identification purposes or crime scene re-creation.  When a video frame is imported, a digital image affords a superior starting point than an image exported from analog tape.

Digital formats add various types of compression to the CCTV video, which decreases the size of the video files, allowing more video to be stored in the DVR.  This compression must be understood by forensics experts and can complicate investigation and authentication.

In cases where VHS tape is used to record time-lapse video, worn or recycled videotape can cause problems, especially when trying to identify or clarify images.  The examination and authentication process for analog video is significantly different from that of digital video.  Only in Hollywood-produced television shows can technicians extract a high-quality image from a worn-out, distorted, or low-resolution time-lapse analog videotape. 

Given how costly it can be to attempt to recover low-resolution or distorted analog tape, purchasing a digital CCTV system is a wiser security measure that will produce better forensic results.  Tapes that fail to be useable in court tend to be lower-resolution and have been recycled multiple times.

Once a crime is caught on DVR, a back-up digital video can be made immediately.  This backing up of video is called book marking or creating an alarm file.  Analog systems do not have this quick duplication or back-up solution.

When analog video is used as evidence, the court or police make copies for all parties involved in litigation.  Those copies experience generation loss similar to the copies of an original document made by a copy machine.  Additionally, worn videotape can degrade while stored, altering the crispness of images.  This is especially true if the tape has been recycled, which is often the case.  It is much more difficult and expensive to create an image from a recycled analog tape than it is to create an image from a DVR or digital image.  Digital video consistently promises clearer images.

Consider a crime-free society that uses closed-circuit television systems.  Consider upgrading your old analog CCTV system to a more modern digital system.  The investment is worth it, even before you know whether you will ever need it.  Whether digital or analog, CCTV security systems prevent crime, increase security, and reduce loss.  They also control intricate machinery and just about any activity you can imagine.  


Advanced Security & Communications. (2014). “Controlled Circuit TV Reference Guide.”
Retrieved from http://www.advsecpro.com/videomonitoring_reference.html.

Case Study, West Jefferson Medical Center, Marrero Louisiana.  Retrieved from http://www.johnsoncontrols.com/publish/etc/medialib/jci/be/case_studies.Par.42109.File.tmp/WestJeffersonFINAL.pdf.

Dwyer, J. (2005). Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest. The New York Times. April 12th, 2005. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/12/nyregion/12video.html?_r=0.

Pivot3, Case Study. (2007). CS IVN V2.1.
Retrieved from http://pivot3.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/preserving-irreplacable-video-evidence.pdf.

York, T. (2006). A Conversation on Healthcare Security. Pelco Press Release.
Retrieved from http://www.pelco.com/documents/business-solutions/en/shared/health-care/conversation-on-healthcare-security.pdf.



Here are some suggested maintenance tips for both analog and digital CCTV systems:

  1. Clean your camera lenses and weatherproof housings often.  This will help produce clearer video.

  2. Outdoor cameras can become dirty, and birds, weather, and other unexpected elements can move them.  Housings have seals that can become worn out and break, allowing humidity to condense on lenses and sensors, blurring video images.

  3. Test your digital or analog recorder monthly to assure all cameras look good and are pointed at the appropriate areas, and replace any poorly functioning cameras or recording equipment.

  4. Clean the tape heads of your analog video record deck with a head cleaner that can be purchased from Radio Shack or online.  In addition, it is necessary to have your analog record decks serviced annually.  Since they record virtually nonstop, the record heads become magnetized from use.  Servicing will demagnetize your analog video recorder tape heads and remove magnetic buildup that can cause poor record quality.

  5. Prepare for a new world of technology in video evidence.  Upgrade your current systems to digital and seek out forensic experts who can help you understand surveillance video when used as evidence in legal matters.


Ed Primeau began his career in Multi Media in 1979 as an engineer in the music industry working with Ed Primeaurenowned recording artists like Anita Baker, Bob Seger and Barry Manilow. He has also worked as the sales manager of one of the top recording studios in the Midwest. During his years in the music business, Mr. Primeau< developed a music industry niche, hosting album release parties for major label record companies – Warner Brothers, Capitol Records, Geffen, Arista Records and CBS Records – for musical artists including Julian Lennon, Robbie Robertson, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and Def Leppard.

In 1984, Ed founded Primeau Productions Inc., a full-service Multi Media production company that provides consultation and services for professional speakers and entertainers around the world. Ed works with his clients to help them develop their talent and effectively help them market and promote their talent using Multi Media.

Primeau Productions Inc. also travels to produce conventions and conferences throughout the United States by providing full audio and visual support. They offer a full range of services including cost savings, pre production planning, digital audio and video recording and full Multi Media a/v support. They work directly with the meeting facility’s a/v department to ensure your event in an unquestioned success.

Primeau’s team knows how to economize and work within your budget without compromising the quality of the event, and make even the smallest event "look big”. In addition to offering their expertise they also supply their equipment, eliminating much of the expense of on-site equipment rental. With over 25 years of experience in the meetings industry they understand how to best utilize all resources to achieve maximum results. They also have a network of suppliers across the U.S. to meet your every need.

In addition, Ed is also a respected audio visual forensics expert, analyzing audio and video media components and providing expert witness testimony to assist attorneys, courts and government agencies. Highlights of his forensics forte include audio and video authentication, voice identification, sound restoration and audio and video clarification.

Ed is a former president of the National Speakers Association of Michigan as well as a chapter member of the year. Ed’s company Primeau Productions Inc. frequently volunteers its services for the National Speakers Association. In fact, Ed received the 1998/99 Presidents Award for Distinguished Service from the National Speakers Association, an honor given only once a year. 

Ed is also author of the book, “The Art of Production” and contributing author to “Advance Selling for Dummies”.  Ed is currently writing with co author Terry Brock “Multi Media for Dummies” and his forensic book “Caught on Video”.

Ed has also authored several articles that have appeared in “Speaker”, “Event Solutions” and “Home Land Security” as well as many websites including www.EdPrimeau.com, www.ExpertPages.com and www.TASAnet.org.

As a coach and consultant, Ed works with professional speakers and entertainers to develop their message and brand to incorporate a succinct position in their market and increase their visibility and bottom line.

Originally Published in Inside Homeland Security September,2014.

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