When crimes being committed are caught on video, often, the image is fuzzy, grainy, damaged, poorly exposed and shaky, making it difficult to identify suspects or distinguish markings. To solve the problem, many local, state and nationalagencies are turning to video forensic technology to develop clean images that can be used to identify suspects and generate leads.
Take, for instance, a service station in Pawtucket, R.I., that was robbed in early January 2007. An unidentified white male, approximately 35-60 years of age with gray hair, robbed the service station, escaping with handfuls of $1 bills. What the suspect may not have known was that the service station had a video surveillance system that was recording at the time of the robbery. The video in the case was brought to the Rhode Island State Police Criminal Identification Unit to be analyzed. Police Detective Lt. Dennis Pincince, supervisor of the unit, analyzed the video using a VideoFOCUS video forensics system from Salient Stills, Boston.
The Criminal Identification Unit (CIU) has a team of five department personnel trained on the VideoFOCUS system as well as on another video forensic system. Together, they process video for 215 sworn members and 51 civilian staff members of the Rhode Island State Police.
“The VideoFOCUS system is easy to use,” Pincince says. “When we started using it, we had our team up and running in about a half-a-day because of the two- to three-day training time and associated learning curve. When the Salient Stills team came in to show us VideoFOCUS, we pulled out video where we needed to identify a license plate number. The system was able to quickly generate a clean shot of the license plate.”
VideoFOCUS can import an extensive range of digital video recorder file types including .MPG, .WMF and. ASF and can export file types including .MOV, .AVI and .WMF for viewing through QuickTime, Windows Media Player and other popular video players. With seamless integration into VideoFOCUS, any law enforcement team can capture video data directly from proprietary security system movie players while the video is played.
“We find that VideoFOCUS is an efficient video image enhancement solution,” says Laura Teodosio, CEO of Salient Stills. “There is a big difference between video and video that can be used as evidence, and we ensure that the stills taken from VideoFOCUS can be used for evidence.
To obtain images from the service station robbery, Pincince had to convert the analog video into a digital format. He then analyzed and separated the images of the suspect from all the other video “noise.” A common source of noise in video surveillance is multiplexed video, consisting of a single video stream with several camera views in it. “VideoFOCUS takes the raw video and digitizes it. You then open it in a separate window and analyze it by de-multiplexing the scenes,” Pincince says.
Motion tracking and alignment allows VideoFOCUS to stabilize the video for a sharper image. Because of this, Pincince had several clear, usable images to help identify the service station robber.
Most law enforcement officials requesting CIU assistance are seeking to acquire usable, still photos as evidence. The Rhode Island Police team relies most on VideoFOCUS to capture clothing for identification purposes, logos, descriptions of vehicles and license plate photos. “We also pull images to identify robbery suspects, suspects using stolen credit cards, alleged prison assault incidents by guards and patient abuse incidents,” Pincince says. “On an average month, we get about 20-25 requests to pull images off video.”
As a result of VideoFOCUS, several photos were printed from the surveillance video at the service station robbery. These included photos of the robber himself, as well as his vehicle. The photos were placed on Rhode Island's Most Wanted Web site and run on the nightly television news broadcast. A few days after the robbery, the Pawtucket Police Department received an anonymous tip alerting them to a suspect. After checking with the Department of Motor Vehicle files for a license photo, police determined that the photo strongly resembled the suspect. When they arrived at his listed address, they found the identified vehicle. Officers were able to arrest and charge the man with robbery of the service station.
“We have solved a lot of cases thanks to our video evidence from VideoFOCUS,” Pincince says, adding that criminal convictions have since increased as a result of the video forensic evidence captured by the Salient Stills technology.