GV – January 1998

LEVA Honors Top Law Enforcement Videos
By Sheldon Liebman

Recently, the Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association (LEVA) held its annual award banquet honoring the top videos creating by Law Enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada. In this article, we’re going to look at two agencies that received awards. Although their styles are very different, these two departments share the desire and talent to create videos that appeal not only to Public Safety personnel, but also to anyone who has the opportunity to watch them.

Metro Dade Police Department Video Services
Readers of this magazine may already be familiar with Metro Dade Police Department Video Services. This four-person department consists of two cameramen/editors and two producers. Rick Bravo is the senior member of the unit and has been a full-time member for over five years. Before that, Bravo worked in the film business but also volunteered for the department. With both a father and grandfather in the movie business, Bravo brings a filmmaker’s approach to the videos his department creates.

"I’m very old school, so I don’t like to use a lot of effects," says Bravo. "I prefer straight cuts and dissolves in the right places. When I’m doing something dramatic, I don’t want to take away from that." One shining example of Bravo’s style is "ValuJet Flight 592 Remembered," which received a Craft Award for Best Editing and took First Place in the Music Video category. The project started out as something personal and snowballed from there.

"We had just finished a ‘Behind the Silver Badge’ package on ValuJet. I’d listened to two or three pieces of music and wanted to put something together with that," explains Bravo. Initially, he gave copies to some of the divers and Special Response Team people that were involved in the operation. As other groups found out about the video, hundreds of copies were requested at a time. At that point, the department submitted it to LEVA.

According to Bravo, "Everywhere I show it, I get the same response. Nobody moves, nobody talks and you can hear a pin drop. It’s a desired effect but not planned." The piece itself has no narration and very limited sound bites. Bravo says it "just kind of puts you there in the moment."

Metro Dade also received honors for a number of other videos. "Beyond the Call of Duty – Tucker" was awarded First Place for Community Relations Short, received Craft Awards for Best Camera and Direction, and took home the Honor Award. This piece was produced by Diana Narganes and was shot, directed and edited by Bravo.

"Beyond the Call of Duty" is a series that honors outstanding officers and recounts the events that led up to the honor. The subject of this video is Corporal Charles Tucker, who captured a suspect accused of two murders that occurred at different times during the same day. Corporal Tucker canvassed the neighborhood until he found the suspect, chased him with his car and convinced him to surrender.

This video cuts back and forth between a reenactment of the day’s events, shot semi-strobed and in black and white, and Corporal Tucker in the studio recounting what happened that day. "We shot it strictly handheld," explains Bravo. "We wanted the feel of immediacy and used a lot of different camera angles to change the point of view. It’s cut very much like a movie."

Not everything they do at Metro Dade looks like a movie and Bravo thinks that’s one of their strengths. "We have people that love to fly stuff in and flip it around, but that’s not my preference. There’s also another cameraman/editor who is more of a news type of shooter. Our different styles give a nice variety to our shows because there’s a little bit of everything in there."

To bring the pieces together, Metro Dade uses an Avid Media Composer 4000 running on a PowerMac. Original footage is shot on BetaSP using Sony 637 camcorders and moved around the facility using Sony BetaSP decks. Special effects are handled both through the Avid and with a Pinnacle Aladdin. Another Mac system has software for 3D animation, titling and image manipulation. The quality they achieve with the Avid let’s them use it as a finishing system, so the final version of each show is transferred directly from the Avid to a Sony BetaSP master.

Niagara Regional Police Service
Although Metro Dade won a number of awards, they did not go home with this year’s top award. That honor went to "The Missing Piece" from Niagara Regional Police Service in St. Catharines, Ontario. Jamie Saunders is Niagara’s Video Unit Manager and Jim Hayden was the Producer for this particular video. Their department has four full-time people, a few part-time resources and access to local freelance talent when needed.

Niagara Regional Police Service created the Video Training Alliance, which distributes programs and services to 18 police services in Ontario. In this case, the video covers the subject of stalking in general and the case of Paul Bernardo in particular. "This was the biggest case in Ontario this century," explains Saunders. "It was the Canadian version of the O.J. Simpson trial."

There was intense media coverage of the Bernardo case and a judicial review. "One of the decisions in the review was that communications between police departments had to be better," says Saunders. This video includes information about a system in Canada called VICLASS, which links together police services throughout the country and gives them access to information on certain types of crimes in other areas. "The goal is to get people to document everything and get it into the system," adds Saunders.

The Missing Piece" was done as an interview-based piece, which is not used very often at Niagara. In this case, however, the interview subjects were good enough to support this type of approach. "You try to plan interviews and hope people will be good," comments Saunders. In this case, "the three key interview subjects were great." In fact, adds Hayden, "They all came across incredibly well and they were all very articulate. We had 20 minutes on each of them and trying to condense that into a ten minute package was a little difficult."

Watching the video, it’s clear that there are some pretty sophisticated special effects being used. In the opening, for example, letters are flying over a police car and the interview subjects are displayed as talking heads in the side view and rear view mirrors of a police car. Speaking with Saunders and Hayden, however, you begin to understand how hard work and creativity can be used instead of big budget equipment.

"We shot all the interviewees on green screen and keyed that over the background video," says Saunders. For the flying letters, explains Hayden, "We took a video projector out in the field and positioned it on top of our service vehicle playing a VHS tape." The result wasn’t bright enough by itself, so Hayden used the original letters and keyed that over the top of the projection shot.

The video also has footage showing a stalker outside the home of a victim. No fancy sets were used here, according to Hayden. "Three of us used my house as a set at 2 in the morning. One car drove by the whole evening" during the shoot.

All of the source video was recorded on BetaSP, either handheld or on a tripod. Occasionally, Niagara Regional rents a jib or dolly, but that wasn’t necessary for this video. They also have a Steadi-Cam JR that can be used with camcorders.

The source footage is loaded onto an Avid Media Composer 1000 and the finished master is created directly from the Avid, just like at Metro Dade. Saunders also points out that all the special effects and 3d for the program are done with the Avid. One exception was the opening titles, which were created with Adobe PhotoShop and then animated by the Avid.

Normally, Niagara Regional is under severe time constraints for projects, so there isn’t a lot of room to experiment. In fact, says Saunders, "This is the first time we’ve encouraged Jim (Hayden) to go crazy in the post." With the Avid, however, the unit has been able to push the envelope on a few projects.

"Overall, the Avid has made a huge difference to us in post," claims Saunders. "It saves you time on the technical part of editing so that you can concentrate more on creative issues. In this case, Jim got heavily into layers and the green screen key effects."

Hayden also spent a lot of time on the audio side, which is his personal preference. "There were points in the video with a full 12 or 16 tracks of audio, mostly for sound effects, he says. There are also a few areas that have eight layers of video, although Hayden admits that’s "almost routine now."

Even with a powerful editing system, Hayden feels very strongly that you have to start with the best possible footage. "We really worked hard on shooting the interior of the house. It was really nicely lit and had pretty visuals. You need to start with good material" before you add the special effects.

"This is something we’ve really tried to concentrate on the last couple of years," says Saunders. "If you can do something in an hour but it needs four hours to do it well, then block off six and do it right. When you look at all the time you spend on other things, the production is really a small part of the total project."

That’s EnterTRAINment
At Niagara Regional, they like to refer to what they create as EnterTRAINment. They believe it’s important to keep the audience interested as well as get across the information. Both Niagara and Metro Dade also like to see what other groups are doing to compare their work and get ideas for the future. In this case, each one looks to the other for examples of high quality work. Based on this year’s results, they both have lots of good ideas to use for the future.

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