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Video Forensics: Catching the Crooks on Camera


The next time you are shopping at your favorite retail store, look up at the ceiling. Chances are that you will probably see surveillance cameras, which many stores install to prevent shoplifting. Watching movies and your favorite episode of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), you would think that the recorded video is always crystal clear, easily showing a suspect's face or his license plate, but this is far from reality.

In fact, the recorded video is often so bad that video forensics investigators have to be brought in. Using special techniques and software, these investigators enhance and reconstruct video to catch the crooks. Two such software packages are Video Active and Video Investigator, both from Cognitech. Used in corporations and law enforcement agencies around the world, Video Investigator has helped put many people behind bars.

What Is Video Forensics?

Video forensic investigators take recorded video and enhance it to a point where detailed faces of people and car license plates can be seen. Often, the original video is blurred, underexposed (especially at night) or just plain horrible. It is up to the investigator to turn lead into gold, and make bad video into good evidence. Not only does this help convict criminals, but can also help clear innocent people of wrongful charges.

As more and more video evidence is submitted in court cases, a scientific method of image enhancement and reconstruction must be used. Investigators seem to be moving towards commercial software that has survived the intense scrutiny of court cases, rather than using a mishmash of separate tools as in the past. Cognitech's Video Investigator software has helped solve many high profile cases, included finding the infamous attackers of Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was brutally beaten during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Chris Enzler, from Cognitech, says, "What is shocking to me is the brutality on video between human beings, it's sad." He is pleased that his company's software was used in convicting the suspects.

The beating of Reginald Denny was videotaped by news helicopters flying above the intersection of Florence and Normandy. One of the suspects had a distinctive tattoo on his arm. Video forensic software enhanced the outline of the tattoo, which matched the tattoo on the suspect. As a result, the suspect was convicted.

"Video Investigator has been in court, the algorithm is proven, and the paper (about the algorithm) has been accepted by academic peers."