Originally developed for military/defense purposes, evidence-gathering video equipment and enhancement software continues to revolutionize crime-solving and suspect apprehension.
Panoscan’s MK-3 panoramic camera While those fledging video techniques have only been around about 20 years, they have been a boon to police work, even, on occasion, enabling a detective to take a “virtual” walk through an aging, unsolved crime scene. Such digital multimedia evidence (DME) can become an essential part of the “holy trinity”— evidence, witnesses and confessions— needed to solve crimes. Without evidence or witnesses, there is little chance a detective can get a suspect to provide a confession.
While not every police department has a crime lab as seen on the television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” an increasing number of law enforcement agencies have realized the value and overwhelming availability of digital evidence related to nearly every crime, minor or major, said Michael Fergus, program manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police Technology Center.
“There is, very often, a record of elements of the crime in text messages, emails, social media posts and cellphone records,” Fergus said. “At the same time, many more tools are available at an affordable price to facilitate the recovery of this critical evidence.”
Such evidence presents a reality untainted by human interpretation. It is considered highly objective and holds significantly more weight in a courtroom than faulty eyewitness memories or expert opinions.
Canon’s VB-M600VE There was a time when evidentiary videotapes of actual criminal activities were recorded on security cameras that typically operated over long distances with slow frame rates. This resulted in tapes that often produced blurry images caused by less-than-optimal filming conditions. Not so these days. Digital cameras, panoramic and 360-degree views and forensic video enhancers have increased the quality of recordings.
Canon’s new series of pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) network cameras includes the VB-M40 and the VB-M600VE, which provide clean images via a 1.3-megapixel complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor and Canon’s DIGIC NET image processing for excellent low-light performance. Both supply simultaneous transmission of high-quality video up to 1280×960/30 frames per second in bandwidth-saving H.264 and motion-JPEG, said Brian McKernan, Canon spokesman.
Canon’s VB-M40 The Canon-exclusive digital algorithms improve the VB-M40 auto-focus function’s accuracy, even in low light, haze and other challenging situations. An electronic image-stabilization feature minimizes blur.
Panasonic offers its Toughbook Arbitrator 360, which is a 360-degree in-car digital video system that can support up to six cameras in one law enforcement vehicle for comprehensive evidence capture, said Greg Peratt, national sales director for video solutions integration at Panasonic.
Panasonic’s Toughbook Arbitrator 360 The device maximizes officer safety by enabling a 360-degree view surrounding the entire vehicle. When used with a Panasonic Toughbook mobile computer it provides a fully integrated video management solution for law enforcement agencies.
“The key benefit of the Panasonic in-car digital video solution is protecting the chain of evidence through reliable storage,” Peratt said. By knowing that such video evidence is secure, officers can “focus solely on their duties.”
In addition, Panasonic has just made available the WVTW310 wearable video-camera system, which the company says can provide police officers with an accurate and unbiased record of officer engagements. The wearable system provides extremely wide-angle viewing. It has a recording capacity of up to 32 hours (H.264 compression) and a battery life of approximately five hours when continuously recording; it can also be used with Toughbook.
Panoscan also offers a version of the 360-degree, panoramic video camera, but one that is dedicated to crime-scene video. The Panoscan MK-3 camera objectively captures a high-resolution, 360-degree view of an entire scene. The panoramic images allow investigators to study a crime scene months or years later with unprecedented fidelity, said Chief Financial Officer Casey Coss.
Panoscan’s MK-3 The MK-3 is not intended to replace traditional cameras, but it is intended to augment and support standard photography. The high-resolution digital pictures produced can create a landscape of minute detail, covering items that may have been missed in the first response, he said. The cameras are so reliable that the Los Angeles Police Department has three, with one dedicated to gathering the crime scenes of officer-involved shootings.
Digital-evidence pioneer Cognitech, located in Pasadena, Calif., was established in the late 1980s with funding from the Department of Defense. Company co-founder Lenny Rudin said the company still uses a technique it invented, which is based on a branch of calculus known as nonlinear differential equations. The technique “smoothes out” distortions in an image while retaining the sharp edges that define key features.
Cognitech’s Kaptor The technique was used “to build rockets, and we used similar equations and turned them around to make and improve images,” Rudin said. The result is Cognitech’s Forensic Video Tri-Suite software, which advances video analysis and enables the viewing of multiple video streams from different platforms within one application. The video demultiplexing function enables the software to better sort video according to content, such as specific people, vehicles and objects that are present in the recordings.
This month the company is unveiling a hardware product called “Kaptor,” its newest mobile hardware/ software solution to acquire and process any video and audio data on the CCTV/Mobile Devices field.
MediaSolv’s Commander Digital Evidence Management System At the end of the day, what does a police department do with all the digital recordings that have accumulated? MediaSolv, located in Herndon, Va., says its Commander Digital Evidence Management System is the answer. The CDEM is a one-stop, Web-browser-based software that can automatically track all DME while eliminating questions about chain of custody, said Tom Hessen, vice president of sales and marketing for MediaSolv.
A police department might find itself “with videos and CDs and other stuff that is just stacked to the ceiling,” Hessen said. The CDEM software saves a massive amount of time and frees detectives from unproductive clerical
work because the software tracks all access to the evidence. No one can tamper with the DME without leaving a digital fingerprint.
“The software gives departments institutional control over their media,” because the evidence is “not stored in a box somewhere, but is in one place, safe and protected behind their firewall,” he said.