Alameda County, CA District Attorney's Office
As the word got out that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office had purchased an Avid Xpress with Ocean Systems' dTective package, the phone started ringing off the hook. Other district attorney's offices, sheriff's offices, and police stations from up and down the state of California were calling, begging for help with seemingly unusable videotapes.
"When we have the time, we try and squeeze them in," says Vicki Long, Alameda County's resident forensic video examiner analyst, who says that she likes to be able to help other agencies out when they need the assistance. In one case, Long went so far as to take a '911' audio tape and put it together with video from the robbery for a Silicon Valley sheriff's department to use.
For Long, the best part of using a non-linear system, and specifically, combining it with the dTective software, is that the original video tape only needs to be touched once, for the initial copying. "Then, you can work with it as much as you want because you don't have to worry about the actual tape," she explains. "Watching it over and over again and never worrying about wearing it out. Now, that's a relief."
About half of Long's job is handling evidence, analyzing and editing tapes; the other half is making educational training tapes for the District Attorney's office. Working with the Avid Xpress and dTective software benefits both aspects of her job, says Long. "It's a win-win situation. We got a very good editing system for the training tapes, and getting these forensic tools is just a godsend for me."
Long says she pushed hard for the Avid system two years ago when it was time for her department to upgrade from a linear to a non-linear editing system. "For me, I really wanted the forensic tools, and this was the only one that had the advanced forensic and editing tools in one, so it made sense."
Long demonstrates the ease of use of the new system with a copy of a tape from a recent hold-up of a fast-food restaurant. The images from the original tape are a dark, gray blur, the suspect hardly visible as she moves toward the counter. The quality is bad and the picture is small as it was caught using a quad-split image. Without the dTective tools, it would be a lost cause, one for the garbage bins, says Long.
Armed with her dTective tools, Long set to work, clarifying the images while maintaining their integrity and validity, a skill she learned in a four-day "Forensic Video Analysis and the Law" course offered through LEVA, the Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association.
Almost immediately, she focuses on the ROI, or region of interest. 'Let's just look at her face,' she explains as she works her magic. In this case, Long gets a break. For at least 10 frames, the suspect stands almost perfectly still, waiting for the person behind the counter to hand over the money. "Luckily, she was a patient robber," says Long, who is able to frame average the pixels and come up with a clear image of the suspect's face.
Long's work pays off for the department. The new image is used to help put the suspect behind bars for three years for robbery. Long's hard work has also paid off in other ways. She recently won a top award from LEVA for her superior work as a forensic video analyst.
Long remembers what it was like before she had the tools to do her job right, "It got me so mad at times when I couldn't pull an image off of a tape," she says. But times are better. "Now that I have dTective, I get this terrible video and know there's something I can do with it."