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SPD Examining Technical Issue With In-Car Video System

In January, the Seattle Police Department discovered a technical issue with its patrol car video systems. The department is currently working to review extent of the issue and resolve it. On Friday afternoon, the department sent this memo to Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Chair of the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee:


TO: Councilmember Bruce Harrell PSCRT COMMITTEE CHAIR                           DATE: 4/4/14

FROM: A/C Nick Metz


The purpose of this memorandum is to provide you with further information on the technical issues associated with Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) COBAN in-car video (ICV) system, resulting from a system upgrade that was rolled out on April 23, 2013. SPD has determined that videos recorded after that date may have dropped frames, and that there are issues with video and audio synchronization.

Since discovering the video drop frame and related audio syncing issues with ICV, the department has taken proactive steps to address and correct the problem by working with the vendor, our IT staff, and contracting with a forensic video expert.

Following the roll-out, dropped frames were not detected on videos until January 20, 2014. While reviewing an in-car video, members of the Force Review Board noticed audio was out of sync with video captured by an in-car camera and contacted SPD’s IT department about the issue.

On January 23, 2014, the Force Review Board identified a second video missing several frames. (Note: The absence of a single missed image would likely not be discernable to anyone other than a video specialist. If multiple consecutive images were missing, that event would likely be noticeable, especially when there is significant motion in the images.) SPD IT contacted the vendor and began working with them to resolve the issue.

On February 10, 2014, Allan Chen, president of COBAN Technologies, sent a letter to the department addressing an approximately one-second “skip” in an ICV video of an officer- involved shooting. Chen attributed the issue to “a possible situation where the video buffer becomes saturated” causing the video system to drop frames of recorded video. In the letter, Chen also stated “There was no operational issue, or preventative measure, that the end-user or support staff could have done to mitigate the problem.”

On March 5, 2014, COBAN met with representatives from SPD, City Law, Mayor’s Office, and the DOJ monitoring team to discuss the issue. COBAN representatives informed SPD that a new version of their software would correct the issue and they stated they would deliver a tool to identify how many videos were affected. COBAN’s tool to identify the affected videos did not work.

On approximately March 14, 2014, City Law contacted forensic video expert Grant Fredericks to assess the extent of the issue.

On March 19, 2014, SPD began a two-day rollout of a COBAN software update.

Currently, Fredericks and SPD IT are working to identify the scope of the issue, but are reviewing, at minimum, several hundred thousand videos. Fredericks is currently beta testing custom-built software, which will examine ICV metadata to cross reference video lengths, and frame rates, and identify any videos affected by the software issue.

So far, the department has found the dropped frames account for less than 1⁄2 of 1% of all video recorded by the ICV system.

SPD will keep your office apprised of the status of this issue, and follow up with additional information once the video audit is complete and the full scope of the impact is known. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

cc: Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim Acting Chief Paul McDonagh

Chief Harry Bailey
Assistant Chief Mike Washburn Assistant Chief Tag Gleason Assistant Chief Carmen Best Captain Steve Paulsen
Celina Villa, SPD
Mark Knutson, SPD
Bruce Hills, SPD
Greg Narver, Law
Kimberly Mills, Law