Eyes on the prize
New software systems are increasing the clarity of all types of surveillance videos
- By Doug Beizer
- Jul 09, 2008
During a robbery at a Pawtucket, R.I., convenience
store in 2007, security cameras caught
images of the suspect and his car. But the poor
quality of the video made it difficult to see the
man's face and the make and model of his car.
Using video forensic tools, state police were
able to clarify the images enough to release a
photo of the suspect to the media and determine
that he was driving a white Chrysler New
"Someone identified him from the picture,
which led us to getting his address and information
from the Department of
Motor Vehicles," said Detective
Dennis Pincine of the Rhode Island
"We got his license photo, which looked similar
to the photo we captured from the surveillance
video," he added. "And we checked his
vehicle registration, which came back as a
white Chrysler New Yorker."
With that information, police brought the
man in for questioning, and he admitted to
committing the robbery, along with other
For Pincine, the case illustrates the power of
video evidence and the need for tools to clarify
and organize video content.
The Rhode Island State Police use two video
forensic tools: VideoFocus from Salient Stills
Inc. and dTective from Ocean Systems.
VideoFocus was designed to make it easy to
import videos from any source, including surveillance
systems, handheld video cameras and
cell phones. Once a video is imported, the
client-based software lets users clean it as
needed, said Laura Teodosio, chief executive
officer at Salient Stills.
The company is seeing a rising demand for
its product from law enforcement agencies,
intelligence agencies and the military, she said.
Part of the increase is because of the greater
availability of video technology.
"The challenge is how [to] turn a video into
something that's usable," Teodosio said.
"Whether the video is in analog tape form, digital form or in some sort of proprietary form
like from a phone, the first thing you need to
do is get video off the device and onto your
computer," she said.
VideoFocus makes that process faster and
easier than manual methods, she added. It
includes a tool that turns proprietary video ?
for example, from a digital video recorder ?
into a format that can be edited.
The tool also has a function that lets users
capture images directly from proprietary digital
videos as they play. It captures and stores
the video in an uncompressed format.
Customers can use the product's Quick Scan
and Search feature to review and mark areas of
interest in a long video sequence, which is
helpful in finding specific images. They can
also inspect detailed areas of images and
movies by zooming and dragging.
The tool's filters make it possible to create
clear imagery. With input from law enforcement
agencies, the company chose the most
effective, widely used and straightforward set
of filters. They include: super-resolution, deinterlacing,
field swap, crop, zoom, speed
change, sharpen, blur, histogram equalization,
levels adjustment, and color and black-andwhite
The final step is to put all the video information
together for dissemination or sharing,
Teodosio said. "That might be by converting
into a form that's standard or making a little
presentation by editing it all together."QUALITY CONTROL
The forensics service unit of the Rhode Island
State Police processes videos that range in quality
from crystal clear digital to very poor VHS
"Dealing with VHS tapes, you're going to
find that a lot of establishments use tapes over
and over again, so the quality can get extremely
degraded," Pincine said.
Newer digital systems also can have problems.
The quality suffers if the resolution is set too low,
the video is too compressed or it is set up to capture
a low number of frames per minute.
In addition to sharpening images,
VideoFocus also helps police prepare court
"When we end up bringing these cases to
court, these tools give you a record of what
you've done with a certain piece of video or picture,"
Pincine said. "It gives you a history as
you're doing clarifications. Documentation and
how you arrive at a conclusion become
extremely important." And demonstrating that
a result can be validated and reproduced is also
important, he added.
Law enforcement agencies that use video
tools not designed for forensics are at a disadvantage,
said Stephen Monteros, chief operating
officer at Linear Integrated Systems Inc.,
which developed management and chain-ofcustody
software for digital evidence.
VideoFocus is integrated into Linear's software.
"There is still physical evidence, but electronic
evidence is rising exponentially," he said.
"This can be digital photography, audio or
The volume of videos law enforcement agencies
must process makes specialized tools
essential. Linear's software manages and creates
a chain of custody and archives those
"They used to say back in 2001 [that] people
are captured on video anywhere between eight
to 12 times a day," Pincine said. "Today that is
significantly higher because cameras are everywhere,
and more and more crimes are being
captured with video cameras."Doug Beizer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff
writer at Washington Technology.