A year ago, I was asked to investigate the body-worn cameras used in a case involving a young man accused of resisting arrest and the possible use of excessive force by the officers restraining him. The video recordings of four officers and a squad car were provided. The overarching question was how come, at the most inopportune time, did the camera of the lead officer fail to capture the events preceding the skirmish?
Body-worn cameras tend to be seen by the public as an obvious solution to increase the transparency of how law enforcement officers perform their jobs, especially with regard to their interactions with the public. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 49% of sheriff’s offices and 60% of local police departments have fully deployed bodycams . In this study, these agencies reported that the main reasons they invested in the cameras were to increase evidence quality, improve officer safety, and reduce civilian complaints.
As a cybersecurity and digital forensics professional, I am quick to remind my clients that no technology is a panacea. Not only have 26 different studies found that “the use of body-worn cameras by police officers did not have a statistically significant impact on officers’ use of force”  but the technology must be properly implemented and managed.
According to the BJS report, 86% of the agencies using body-worn cameras had a formal body-worn camera policy. Policies play an important role as they articulate management’s expectations as to how a technology is to be used and configured. For example, the officers, in this case, were instructed to start recording the moment the call came in and to leave the camera recording for the duration of the call. However, there was not a formal policy in place.
This particular sheriff’s office uses the BODYCAM® BC-300 by PRO-VISION® Video Systems. These cameras are designed to work with “SecuraMax™ by PRO-VISION®, a CJIS compliant cloud-based or self-hosted digital evidence management platform” . The SecuraMax server has three levels of access control:
- An administrator who can make configuration changes to the server and the BC-300s,
- A supervisor who can view all recordings uploaded by everyone, and
- A user who can upload, review, and tag the media captured by their BC-300
Granular privileges as to what a user or supervisor may do are set by the administrator.
There is a camera configuration setting that allows the camera to capture a rolling buffer of video footage prior to the button press to initiate recording. Another configuration setting can require either a short press or a long press to initiate or stop recording. The purpose of this feature is to prevent accidental starting or stopping of the recording.
In short, my investigation determined that, based on the videos provided in discovery, the various cameras were configured differently at the time of the incident but months later, when I went to the Sheriff’s office to inspect them, they were all configured the same way and to use the long press. Note that the configuration changes are pushed down to the BC-300 units by the SecuraMax server. During my investigation I was not able to obtain a log that shows which configuration changes were made in the SecuraMax server and when they were made. I could not confirm if the system could generate such a log.
Based on both the user manual and experimentation, it appears as if there is no functionality in the BC-300 to delete video files. Deletion must be done via the SecuraMax software.
As a result, I concluded that the most likely explanation was that the officer in question had turned off his camera using the short press during a show of waving his hands at the very end of the truncated video.
Hopefully this brief story underscores the importance of diving deeper into technologies that we take for granted. New technologies can result in unintended consequences and people can learn how to game the system. If you have a complicated technology that is critical to your case, Lucid Truth Technologies can help. Give us a call.