The Beaver Countian has uncovered data that shows a Beaver Police dash cam system did in fact record at least some audio during the August 18, 2016 arrest of James Edward Cicco by Patrolman Jeffery Wijnen-Riems (watch the dash cam footage here). The Beaver Countian’s discovery during an analysis of the video contrasts an understanding expressed in open court by the District Attorney’s Office and Beaver Police that the system recorded no sound during the encounter.
The Beaver Countian received a copy of the dash cam video on Thursday after the District Attorney’s Office released it to the general public, pursuant to a joint order of court issued by Judges Dale Fouse and Harry Knafelc. The order came as the result of legal action taken by a group of concerned residents of Beaver Borough who sought access to the recording; Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier had fought against public release of the data for months prior to the group’s court filing.
The WatchGuard dash cam system utilized by the Beaver Borough Police Department is designed to record audio in a stereo format. The “left channel” of the recording is designated for audio from a wireless microphone an officer wears on his person, the “right channel” is to contain recordings from a cabin microphone installed in the patrol unit.
During testimony at trial, Officer Wijnen-Riems told jurors that he was not wearing his ballistic vest during his encounter with James Cicco, having forgotten it back at the station when he first left for an unrelated non-emergency call. The external carrier holds various equipment including the officer’s taser, police radio, and the remote microphone for the dash cam. Wijnen-Riems testified that the dash cam system did not record his wireless microphone because he did not have it on his person, and the patrol car’s cabin microphone did not record any sound from the incident for unknown reasons.
An analysis by the Beaver Countian of the left channel of the audio track seems to confirm there was no data recorded from an external wireless microphone at the time of the incident. The only signal in the data appears to be line noise generated by the system.
However, an analysis by the Beaver Countian of the right channel of the audio track did reveal recorded sound, which is visually evident on so-called “waveform” monitors that display an image representing the shape and form of audio recordings. The audio (which starts at the 1 minute mark) is at a very low level on the recording and only became discernible by ear following amplification in specialized software. Line noise in the recording is also amplified through that process which required additional filtering to diminish.
With its analysis to date, the Beaver Countian has been able to discern what is believed to be the sound of a police siren wailing (starting ~1m24s) as Officer Wijnen-Riems initiates a traffic stop of James Cicco, and also what is believed to be the sound of Officer Wijnen-Riems engaging his air horn as he pulls his patrol car behind the man (~1min35s). Engine noise as the officer accelerates at various times (~1min40s), cabin noise as the officer turns into Cicco’s driveway (~2min26s), and the sound of the officer using his car door (~2min36s), are all also believed to have been identified in the audio track.
It is not yet clear if the file released to the public can be amplified and filtered in such a way that would make discernible any verbal communications made between Wijnen-Riems and Cicco during the arrest. The cabin microphone for the dash cam system is only designed to record audio from within the police cruiser itself, although technical specifications published by the vendor suggests it could potentially pick up sound from outside of the vehicle as well, especially when the vehicle’s doors are open or windows are down.
A professional forensic analysis of the video file, the WatchGuard server at the Beaver Police Department, and equipment installed in the patrol vehicle itself, would be required to determine why the audio in the released video is present at such an extremely low level and whether or not higher quality sound from the incident may be available.