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Will The Camera See The Same Thing You Do? - Blogs - American Sheepdog
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Will The Camera See The Same Thing You Do?

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In Force Science News, Transmission 147, the subject was films of an incident, against what the participant remembers about the same event. Many times these will simply not match up. FSNews study the reasons why this is, and suggests the best technique for reporting such instances.

What brought this to mind, was the array of cameras available in the Times Square bombing recently.Yes, I must call this a bombing, because it was successful. The bomb was constructed, and driven to it's desired location and detonated. That is a bombing.

Ok, new subject. Bomb-making materials and techniques...need to kinda' work on that. BUT, somewhere in Bora-Bora, someone is reading the NYT about how easy it was to put this operation underway.

At any rate, a street crime confrontation may include you, and your recollection may be much different than what the cameras show.


II. Officer-Involved Video Issues Draw Reader Questions, Comments

In Transmission #145, sent 3/12/10, Force Science News (Ed note: I have #145, but generally, it talked about the study and requested input. Available if you want.) explored the fact that video recordings from head cameras and dash-cams may not always jibe with how involved officers remember a life-threatening, high-stress force encounter. And we recommended a cautionary Video Advisory than can be given to viewers to alert them that significant differences between officer perceptions and recorded evidence may legitimately exist.

Here are 3 responses that typify reactions we received from readers, plus additional comments from police attorneys:

How should video/memory discrepancies be handled?
We have already had issues with video recordings and officers' recollections of an incident being different. When an officer writes his report, should he write: 1) What he/she actually remembers; 2) What the video depicts happened (basically writing a story of what he/she is watching); or 3) What he/she remembers and then later in the narrative address the discrepancies between the recollection and the video?

I understand that the officer should bond the 2 versions together, but if the officer truly believes he/she acted in response to a suspect's action and the video shows otherwise, the report and the video will contradict, yet both could still be considered truthful.

Sgt. Denny Corbett
Riverside (CA) PD

John Hoag, a member of the Force Science National Advisory Board and a police attorney with the law firm Snyder and Hoag, LLC, of Portland, OR, responds:

I'd recommend #3. The report must be truthful, so if the officer perceived something different from what is shown in the video, that's what the officer should report, then if possible address the video record. If there is an explanation for the difference that the officer feels qualified to make--for example, tunnel vision or diverted attention that caused the officer to look elsewhere and miss something the camera captured--then give that explanation. However, don't engage in pure speculation. If the speculation is proven wrong, then things will get worse for the officer.

William Everett, also a member of the Force Science National Advisory Board and an attorney with the law firm Everett & VanderWiel, PLLP, of Buffalo, MN, agrees and elaborates:

There is a definite disadvantage to having an officer view the video and try to consolidate the video record with his or her recollections into one report. This kind of report can make it look like the officer, at the time of acting, knew about each and every aspect of the encounter that was recorded on the video. This simply isn't reality.

Imagine a situation where a suspect is pointing a gun at you, and your partner is standing a few feet to your left. At the moment you encountered the threat and shot, you may have had no awareness at all of your partner's presence--it was information in your theoretical field of vision, but it just didn't register in your brain in the process of making an immediate decision or in forming memories of the event later. You were focused instead on the subject and the gun.

So combining the video with your own memories in your report creates a false impression of your reality, which is what your report should convey. The problem here is that your report could be used in an effort to hold you accountable for information that never entered into your decision-making process or memory.

Perhaps the better approach is to write the report, based on your recollections, then supplement it with comments about the video. In your supplement, it is important to be very clear and to plainly describe each important aspect of the video, as to whether it refreshes your recollection (i.e., triggers an actual memory), or whether you are observing things on the video for the first time that you didn't notice at the time of the event.

In the end, the key is for people reading the reports, or questioning officers, to remember that the video and the officer's recollections may very well be different. This difference between the digital account and the officer's account is not necessarily an indication of deception. It may instead be a reflection of the reality that we evolved as a species to pay attention to the information we need to survive, not to recall and recount details later with mechanical accuracy.

Whatever approach an agency chooses to follow, it is important to do things consistently from one case to another. Inconsistencies from case to case, or departures from accepted practice, feed the suspicion mill later about whether an officer or agency was trying to "cover" something up.

Those judging officers' actions should view tapes in real time
I concur with your suggested Video Advisory regarding officer-worn cameras. I encourage you to go one additional step. The initial viewing by any trier of fact should be limited to the "real time" of what the officer viewed, and the jury (or judge, if a bench trial) should be admonished to then make an initial evaluation regarding what was just viewed without the benefit of continuing review.

Additional review may take place after the initial evaluation, but that first "snapshot" viewing should not be disregarded, because that is closer to what the officer perceived than repetitive replay.

Maj. R. F. Borger
Adams County (ID) SO


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  1. Bebo's Avatar
    Part of the reason they have videos of inmate extractions in prison is because of an incident at Pelican bay state prison and my recommendation to video extractions .. worked great and reduced inmate abuse claims and help in court for convictions .. great help to have videos for everyone concerned... however ...
    on one occasion, two officers were escourting an inmate and he broke away from them and charged straight at me as if he was going to tackle me ... from the memory of myself and the two officers, we recalled the officers grabbing him below the waist and he went down and I simply side stepped and he dropped to my feet beside me. In fact what actually happened was I did side step and at the same time used the blade of my left hand to whack the base of his skull and spine and his eyes rolled back and he dropped like a rock. I had no memory of striking him, the officers had no memory of anyone striking him but the video showed it in great detail and slow motion too ... not a problem since it was instictive self defense but kind of strange to have no memory of a potentially lethal strike... videos and memories can be very different sometimes but I think videos are great witnesses.
  2. UGA's Avatar
    This makes a lot of sense. A camera has a field of view not necessarily accurate or reflective of what a person on the scene actually sees. No emotion, no decisions... How often have you watched a video and while focusing on one thing, you notice something else on bottom left of the screen and said; "What was that? Rewind it..." You can't rewind real life.

    It is, what it is. We react based on what we see or perceive. A camera isn't calculating risks, threats and options and acting in response to those variables in a fraction of a second. It simply records a moment in time. People will shift their focus to a specific point thereby limiting their focused point of view. Though we cannot zoom in with our eyes, that is exactly what we do with our focus.

    If you watched a video and a camera shifted and zoomed in and out as fast as a persons eyes would have done, you would have no idea as to what happened. It would be a giant blur, yet we expect people to do this and make accurate decisions and to take the correct action in a seconds time.

    Cameras can help you or hurt you in reflection, and in a time when just about everyone has a video camera built into their cell phone, it is a very real possibility that if you are involved in a public shooting it will be on video. The era of "Big Brother" is here. People complain about their loss of privacy from such things but shouldn't we realize that we as citizens are spying on ourselves as much as our big brother is?


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