Tuesday, April 9, 2019

UX Talk: Amped FIVE's Change Frame Rate filter

The Change Frame Rate filter was introduced into FIVE in 2014. It's functionality is quite simple. You can adjust a file's frame rate, targeting a specific frame rate or a specific time.

For today's post, I have some old files that I use in my Advanced Processing Techniques class. The old DVR that is the source of the class' files only had enough processing power to generate a file that covered 1 minute per camera. Each camera view's recordings were stored in separate 1-minute chunks of data, in separate folders, in a crazy folder scheme. Using Concatenate would be a nightmare as the video files are all named the same.

When creating a proxy file for these files, FFMPEG does not recognize the fps tag in the container. Thus, it defaults to 25fps - which is not correct. Notice the screen shot above. At 25fps, the total time is about 10 seconds. Yet, the file captured 1 minute of time. Obviously, the frame rate is wrong. This type of use case is exactly why I like having this functionality in my toolset. I can manually enter the Total Time value and FIVE will calculate the resulting Frame Rate (ish).

The (ish) - the caveat - using this filter is not without it's problems and pains. Being divorced from the Amped team means I can show you the problems and work-arounds without getting in trouble from the boss.

For this project, you might be tempted to load each 1-minute file, use the new Timeline filter, then change the frame rate as the final step (after using Timeline). The problem here, and the reason I feature this in training, is the high variability in the number of frames within each of the one minute long data files. Thus, I'd want to utilize the Change Frame Rate filter in each minute's processing chain in order to accurately represent time. It's a slog, but it's doable.

If you're a savvy user, you might be thinking, "Hey Jimmy. Just copy the filter instance from one chain and paste it into the other chains." You might think that. You'd be wrong. It doesn't work that way. If you copy / paste the filter, it retains the settings from the source and doesn't update itself with the destination chain's values. You'll want to change the values, but it still won't update. So, it's best to just use a new instance of the filter for each chain.

Another issue with the filter (I'm hoping that all of this gets fixed, in which case I'll post an update to this post) deals with the way in which users enter values in the Total Time field. In the screen shot below, you'll notice that the Frame Rate is 3.7415. I got this incorrect value because of the way in which I edited Total Time. I selected only the "tens" and changed it to zero, the "ones" value was already zero so I left it alone. Doing so caused an incorrect result. To get a correct result, you'll need to select the entirety of "seconds" (or minutes / hours if applicable) and make the change. Yes, I know, this is a lot to keep track of.

If you've restored the frame rate in each processing chain separately, combining the processing chains with the Timeline filter will be necessary. You might think that doing so will result in a file where the Total Time for each chain will add up to a nice round number in the Timeline filter's results. Again, you would be wrong.

For my project, I have 15 files in 15 folders. Each file represents 1 minute. Each file gets it's own processing chain. Each chain is adjusted to 1 minute of total time. Each chain's frame rate is somewhere around 4fps (see above).  But, in combining the chains with the Timeline filter, the program seems to favor the frame rates. The resulting duration, after using the Timeline filter, is not 15 minutes. It's closer to 14 minutes. Timeline seems to do some simple math in spite of all the work that I did in each processing chain - accounting for total frames and frame rate - ignoring the declared Total Time per chain.

These are the types of questions I ask when validating a tool. They're also the types of things that I check when validating a new build / release of a known tool. I don't assume anything. I test everything. In testing - I found this issue.

Does one frame per second make a difference? Maybe not. But, in my project, the uncorrected difference is 1 minute in 15 - or 4 minutes per hour. That's significant. Given that other filters, like Add Timestamp, rely upon correct timing, yes - it will make a difference.

So, do you process everything and change the frame rate on the combined results?

Or, do you change the frame rate in each processing chain, then correct the results after combining the chains utilizing the Timeline filter? You'll get a different frame rate for each - thus the "ish." Which is correct? Your validation of your individual case will tell you. Because of the variability, my results can only advise you of the affect, they can't inform your results or your experiments other than that.

Monday, April 8, 2019

UX Talk: Amped FIVE's Timeline Filter

A few months ago, Amped released Build 12727. That build featured some new functionality - the Timeline Filter.

What the Timeline Filter tries to do is to turn FIVE into an NLE by allowing you to combine processing chains. You can process segments individually, then combine them at the end of your work before writing out the finished results.

Timeline works a bit like Concatenate. The difference being that Concatenate works as a part of the "conversion" process and Timeline works as part of the processing tasks. With Concatenate, you get what you get. With Timeline, you can fine tune the results by selecting specific processing chains as well as the processing steps within those chains.

Timeline is part of the Link filter group. Like the other filters in that group, it doesn't support audio. If you're wondering where your audio track is after using the Timeline, Multiview, or Video Mixer filters, you're likely in North America. It seems, from observing the development of FIVE from here (the western US) that no one else in the world has to deal with audio in multimedia files.

The Filter Settings for the Timeline Filter are pretty simple. One thing to note, when you choose it, the settings will include all your project's processing chains. You'll want to sort through the Inputs and Remove any chains that don't belong (click on the Input to remove and click on the Remove button).

Once combined, write the resulting file out to your desired codec / container.

If your files do have an audio track, and you want the results to also have the audio track, you'll need to strip out the audio first (part of the Convert DVR functionality). Once you've performed your processing / analysis tasks, you'll want to re-combine the audio and video segments in an NLE like Vegas or PremierePro.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Hang on to those installers

Early on in my career, I learned to hang on to the installer files for the programs that I encountered. At the time of the retrieval, I thought (wrongly) that I had the correct installer file already and didn't need to hang on to the file that came out of the evidence DVR. That decision came back to haunt me later when doing the analysis as the DVR's owner replaced the DVR before we could go back to retrieve the program's installer from the machine. This was a long time ago, but the lesson stuck. Assume nothing. Keep everything together.

Fast forward a decade and a half.

Amped SRL made a big deal about their incorporation of the Genetec SDK in FIVE, and FIVE's support of the .g64 and .g64x file types in 2017 (Build 10039). Indeed it was a big deal. Genetec is a popular company and agencies around the western world face these file types quite often. Genetec makes a player for their files, but to export individual camera views from their player takes a lot of time to accomplish - especially in major cases with many relevant camera views.

Fast forward to yesterday.

As you may have heard, I'm no longer part of the Amped team. Amped support is now handled through their support web site. There's no more phone support for North American customers (announced via a change to their EULA that customers likely accepted without reading). But, with an unpronounceable Scandinavian last name, I'm easy to find. I've been getting many calls per day about various analysis-related / software things. Although I can't support software directly, I can still answer UX (how-to) type questions. I also still conduct training sessions around Amped's software (click here for the calendar of offerings).

Yesterday, an old friend called me in a panic. He had a major case, the files were .g64x, and FIVE wasn't working with them anymore. Yes, he knew that I'm no longer with Amped Software. But, he was running out of options and time.

What he didn't know, what most of Amped's customers don't know, is that in March of 2018, Amped SRL quietly removed the Genetec functionality from it's product line (Build 10717). It's normally verbose change log notes only that this build was an interim update - nothing about what was changed. The functionality was not only removed from 10717, but also 10039. Any mention of the Genetec functionality was stricken from the logs. If you search for Genetec on the Amped blog, you will not find anything. It's as if the Genetec integration never happened.

A few weeks ago, another old customer called with a similar story. In his case, he had performed the original work with the .g64 files in Build 10039. The case is moving to trial and he's updated FIVE faithfully. He's been asked to do some additional work on the case. But, the project file doesn't work. Usually, it's quick to duplicate your work and recreate a corrupted project file. But in this case, he can't. He no longer has the ability to work with these files in the same way. It's caused a huge issue with his case - a huge issue he didn't know was coming.

That brings me back to that initial lesson in dealing with the first generation of DVRs - save everything together. Yes, Amped's support portal gives users under support contracts the ability to download previous versions. But, what several have discovered, Amped has changed functionality to at least one of those installer builds (preserving the old build number in rolling out the updated version doesn't help). What else has changed in what's hosted there? How would you know?

All hope was not lost. An older computer of mine was still configured for support of Axon's sales team. I still had the original Axon FIVE Build 10039 on that laptop for a demo done quite some time ago in support of Axon's sales team.  I was able to help the users solve their problems with the Genetec files. I was happy to do so. If you need some help as well, let me know.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The "NAS Report," 10 years later

It's been a bit over 10 years since Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, a Path Forward was released (link). What's changed since then?

As a practitioner and an educator, Chapter 8 was particularly significant. Here's what we should all know - here's what we're all responsible for knowing.

"Forensic Examiners must understand the principles, practices, and contexts of science, including the scientific method. Training should move away from the reliance on the apprentice-like transmittal of practices to education ..."

10 years later, has the situation changed? 10 years later, there are a ton of "apprentice-like" certification programs and just a handful of college programs. College programs are expensive and time consuming. Mid-career professionals don't have the time to sit in college classes for years. Mid-career professionals don't have the money to pay for college. Those that have retired from public service and "re-entered" their profession on the private side face the same challenges.

Years ago, I designed a curriculum set for an undergraduate education in the forensic sciences. It was designed such that it could form the foundation for graduate work in any of the forensic sciences - with electives being being discipline specific. I made the rounds of schools. I made the rounds of organizations like LEVA. I made my pitch. I got nowhere with it. Colleges are non-profit in name only, it seems.

To address the problems of time and money, as well as proximity, I've moved the box of classes on-line. The first offering is out now - Statistics for Forensic Analysts. It's micro learning. It's "consumer level," not "egg head" level. It's paced comfortably. It's priced reasonably. It's entirely relevant to the issues raised in the NAS Report, as well as the issues raised in this month's edition of Significance Magazine.

I encourage you to take a look at Statistics For Forensic Analysts. If you've read the latest issue of Significance, and you have no idea what they're talking about or why what they're talking about is vitally important, you need to take our stats class. Check out the syllabus and sign-up today.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Why do you need science?

An interesting morning's mail. Two articles released overnight deal with forensic video analysis. Two different angles on the subject.

First off, there's the "advertorial" for the LEVA / IAI certification programs in the Police Chief Magazine.

The pitch for certification was complicated by this image:

The caption for the image further complicated the message for me: "Proper training is required to accurately recover or enhance low-resolution video and images, as well as other visual complexities."

Whilst the statement is true, do you really believe that the improvements to the image happened from the left to the right? Perhaps, for editorial purposes, the image was degraded, from the original (R) to the result (L). If I'm wrong about this, I'd love to see the case notes and the specifics as to the original file. Can you imagine such a result coming from the average CCTV file? Hardly.

Next in the bin was an opinion piece in the Washington Post's Radley Balko - "Journalists need to stop enabling junk forensics." It's seemingly the rebuttal to the LEVA / IAI piece.

Balko picks up where the ProPublica series left off - an examination of the discipline in general, and Dr. Vorder Brugge of the FBI in particular. It's an opinion piece, and it's rather pointed in it's opinion of the state of the discipline. Balko, like ProPublica, has been on this for a while now (here's another Balko piece on the state of forensic science in the US).

I don't disagree with any of the referenced authors here. Not one bit. Jan and Kim are correct in that the Trier of Fact needs competent analysts working cases. Balko is correct in that the US still rather sucks at science. That we suck as science was the main reason the Obama administration created the OSAC and the reason Texas created it's licensing scheme for analysts.

Where I think I disagree with Jan and Kim is essentially a legacy of the Daubert decision. Daubert seemingly outsourced the qualification process to third parties. It gave rise to the certification mills and to industry training programs. Training to competency means different things to different organizations. For example, I've been trained to competency on the use of Amped's FIVE and Authenticate. But, none of that training included the underlying science behind how the tool is used in case work. For that, I had to go elsewhere. But, Amped Software, Inc, certified me as a user and a trainer of the tools. That (certification) was just a step in the journey to competency, not the destination.

Balko, like ProPublica, notes the problems with pattern evidence exams. Their points are valid. But, it doesn't mean that image comparison can't be accomplished. It does mean that image comparisons should be founded in science. One of those sciences is certainly image science (knowing the constituent parts of the image / video and how the evidence item was created, transmitted, stored, retrieved, etc. But another one of the sciences necessary is statistics (and experimental design).

As I noted in my letter to the editor of the Journal of Forensic Identification, experimental design and statistics form a vital part of any analysis. For pattern matching, the evidence item may match the CCTV footage. But, would a representative sample of similar items (shirts, jeans, etc) also match? Can you calculate probabilities if you're unaware of the denominator in the function (what's the population of items)? Did you calculate the sample size properly for the given test? Do you have access to a sample set? If not, did you note these limitations in your report? Did these limitations inform your conclusions?

Both LEVA and the IAI have a requirement for their certified analysts to seek and complete additional training / education towards eventual recertification. This is a good thing. But, as many of us know, there are only so many training opportunities. At some point, you kind of run out of classes to take is a common refrain. Whilst this may be true for "training" (tool / discipline specific), this is so not true for education. There are a ton of classes out there to inform one's work. The problem there becomes price / availability. This price / availability problem was the primary driver behind my taking my Statistics class out of the college context and putting it on-line as micro learning. My other classes from my "curriculum in a box" concept will roll out later this year and into the next year.

So to the point of the morning's articles - yes, you do need a trained / educated analyst. Yes, that analyst needs to engage in a scientific experiment - governed both by image science as well as experimental science. Forensic science can be science, if it's conducted scientifically. Otherwise, it becomes a rhetorical exercise utilizing demonstratives to support it's unreproducible claims.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Luminar 3 - First Look

The market for image editors is changing again. Your favorites are now available by subscription only. Some tools haven't been updated in quite some time. Others, are virtually unobtainable for a variety of reasons.

The market is also growing. Folks dumping cell phones and computers just need a simple photo viewer and editor - one that's easy to use and doesn't cost a fortune. You might have heard about the alliance between Cellebrite and Input-Ace. That's cool, but the licenses are a bit pricey and not everyone will have access to those tools all of the time.

Years ago, I ran a very long beta test and proof of concept at the LAPD of what was first called Amped First Responder. Then, with the partnership between Axon and Amped, that product was shifted into the Axon ecosphere and renamed - Axon Investigator. Another round of beta tests. The partnership dissolved. The project went into dormancy. Amped later released Replay. But, the concept is different. Replay isn't an affordable bulk purchase. I wanted a simple editor that was affordable for the average investigator - so everyone could have a copy at their desktop.

My old colleagues need something simple and effective. Something affordable. The latest update of Luminar 3 from Skylum might just be it.

Luminar 3 is a photo editor. It's not for crazy CCTV codecs, or video for that matter. It's a competitor to Photoshop or Lightroom, not PremierePro.

Simple things like focus, colour, sharpening, are all built in and easy to use. To reference the Adobe UI, the tools in Luminar 3 seem like a blend of ACR and Lightroom.

I loaded one of my test files into the program. There's glare from the window. There's a colour cast. The license plate is far away, but there's enough nominal resolution to be able to resolve it. It's a typical task - here's a photo from my mobile, fix it and find the suspects.

30 seconds later, I had clarified the image and saved out a copy. I even took the time to save the settings (known as Looks in Luminar 3).

Once saved, the Look shows up in the UI under Luminar Looks: User Luminar Looks. You can have Looks for all of your typical tasks - which really speeds things up. Plus, if your saved Look is too strong, you can vary the amount and dial back the effect.

Luminar 3 is fast, it's user friendly, it's easy to learn, and it's incredibly affordable. Luminar 3 is just $69. Not per month - total. You own it. Plus, your purchase allows up to 5 installs (either Mac or PC). That's a bargain.

I'm going to be exploring some of the features of this handy tool that I think will work for various tasks in the justice system - from the crime scene to the court room - in future posts. In the meantime, it's worth a look. They even offer a free trial.

Monday, April 1, 2019

My Training Calendar

I've received a few emails about my training schedule. It's over in the Apex Partners web site's  calendar (click here).

As of today, here's what's been booked:

April 29-May 1 - Introduction to Forensic Multimedia Analysis (with Amped FIVE).
April 2-3 - Advanced Processing Techniques (with Amped FIVE).
April 29 - May 3 - Book the whole week and save.

May 16-17 Advanced Processing Techniques (emphasis on system engineering / optimization).

July 15-17 - Introduction to Forensic Multimedia Analysis (with Amped FIVE).
July 18-19 - Introduction to Image Authentication (with Amped Authenticate).
July 15-19 - Book the whole week and save.

Dec 9-11 - Introduction to Forensic Multimedia Analysis (with Amped FIVE).
Dec 12-13 - Advanced Processing Techniques (with Amped FIVE).
Dec 9-13 - Book the whole week and save.

But wait, there's more...

Statistics for Forensic Analysts - on-line micro learning. Click here for information or to sign up.

Redaction of Multimedia Evidence - on-line micro learning. If you're an Adobe, Magix, or Amped customer, there's a course dedicated to those tools. If you haven't chosen a toolset yet, there's a course that incorporates all three (plus a bonus module). Click here for more information or to sign up.

If you're interested in booking a training at your location, just let me know.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Calculating Nominal Resolution during Content Triage

In the image / video analysis workflow, the Content Triage step examines the file's contextual information from the standpoint of "can I answer the question with this file?"

The Content Triage step necessarily involves Frame Analysis. Part of Frame Analysis considers the calculation of the Nominal Resolution of the target area - face, shirt, tattoo, license plate, and etc. In this post, we'll consider license plates (aka number plates or registration plates) as our target.

Dimensionalinfo.com notes that in the US, standard license plate dimensions are six inches by twelve inches or approximately one hundred and fifty-two millimeters by three hundred and five millimeters.

Image source
In the United Kingdom for instance, the standard dimensions for registration plates are five hundred and twenty millimeters by one hundred and eleven millimeters for the front plates while the rear plates measure can be of the same dimensions or two hundred and eighty-five millimeters by two hundred and three millimeters.

Australia on the other hand, has standard dimensions of three hundred and seventy-two millimeters by one hundred and thirty-five millimeters or approximately fourteen and one-half inches by five inches.

The SWGDE Digital & Multimedia Evidence Glossary, Version: 3.0 (June 23, 2016), defines Nominal Resolution as "the numerical value of pixels per inch as opposed to the achievable resolution of the imaging device."  "In the case of digital cameras, this refers to the number of pixels of the camera sensor divided by the corresponding vertical and horizontal dimension of the area photographed."

Let's put this all together with an example from Australia. The question / request is: can we resolve the registration plate's characters on the white care, upper center left of the image shown below.

Ordinarily, you might be tempted to just say not, it's not possible. It's too small. Which of those few pixels do you want me to Photoshop into a registration plate? In this case, we'll attempt to quantify the value of the Nominal Resolution of the target area.

If the typical Australian registration plate is 372mm wide, and the target area is 8px wide, then the Nominal Resolution is ~46.5mm per pixel - meaning each pixel covers a width on target of ~46.5mm (about 1.8 inches). How many pixels wide are needed to resolve characters in a registration plate? My tests have shown results in a few as 5-6 columns of pixels wide can work at distances to target of under 15' for typical CCTV systems. Given that a pixel is generally thought of as the smallest single component of a digital image, you'll need more than a few to resolve small details in an image or video in order to answer questions of identification.

But, but, but ... the video system's specs note that the camera is HD and the recording is 1080p. The system's owner spent a lot of money on the tech. So what?!

Nominal Resolution deals with the target area, not the system's capabilities. The key is distance to target. The farther away from the camera, the lower the Nominal Resolution. The lower the Nominal Resolution, the lower the chance of successfully answering identification questions.

Thus, when responding to requests for service, it's a good idea to calculate the Nominal Resolution of the target area in order to quantify the pixel density of the region, adding the results to your conclusion. A statement such as, "unable to fulfill the request for information, re registration plate details, due to insufficient nominal resolution (~46.5mm per pixel)," is a lot more informative than "sorry, can't do it." If the available data supports no conclusion, adding the quantitative reasons for your conclusion will go a long way to supporting your determination.

If you'd like to know more about these types of topics, join me in an upcoming training session. Click here for more information.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Statistical Significance and Reporting Language

There's been a lot of talk lately about removing "statistical significance" from the reporting language of scientists, and forensic scientists. Many believe that the use of the term deliberately confuses the Trier of Fact and relies upon the fact that most are ignorant of statistics and their foundations.

The limitations of significance is one of the topics covered in Statistics for Forensic Analysts, my stats class that has migrated from the classroom to our on-line micro-learning portal.

Statistics form the foundation of much of what we do in

  • Forensic Video Analysis
  • Forensic Audio Analysis
  • Digital Forensics
  • Latent Print Examinations
  • Questioned Document Examinations
  • Toolmark / Firearms / Treadwear Examinations
  • Shooting Incident Reconstructions
  • Traffic Investigations / Recreations
With so many folks needing to gain knowledge / experience in statistics, offering the course on-line and allowing sign-up at any time allows us to get this valuable information out to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. No need to wait for the next class, no conflicting schedules. Just sign-up and begin learning.

Click here for more information, or to sign-up today.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Quick File Triage

A random request via email prompts Round 2 of the product comparison - Input-Ace vs Amped FIVE. In this case, I received a .re4 file via Dropbox with the question - "what is license plate?" Well, not those words, but I distilled a few paragraphs down to the testable question.

Working the workflow, we conduct File Triage - can I even view this file? The person who emailed noted his failure at finding a way to play the file (he's likely the last person in the world who hasn't heard of Larry Compton's web site where you'll find three flavors of .re4 players). It's common to not want to install players / codecs, as I've said for years. I know that the .re4 format is just h264 video with a crazy proprietary container. Thus, for File Triage, I know that I can load it into Input-Ace or FIVE with no issue.

For File Triage of this random .re4 file - it's a tie(ish). Input-Ace takes about 30 seconds to decode and load the file. FIVE needs to "convert" the file, and takes about 45 seconds to create the "clean" file, the proxy, and the report.

The next step in the workflow is Content Triage, or "can I answer the question / satisfy the request with the given file?" I noted that the file's resolution was 2CIF. I also noted that the vehicle in question was about 50' from what was likely a 2mm-4mm lens. The pixel dimensions of the area likely containing a license plate were about 12x7px.

With every other line of resolution not recorded in the first place, and the target too far away from the lens, identification questions will not be answered with this file. The available video data will not support a conclusion. But, let's pretend that there is enough data. As this is a product comparison, let's run a Macroblock Analysis.

The file was about 500mb, containing about an hour of 2CIF footage. Again with the aid of a trusted analyst, fluent with Input-Ace, the set-up of the analysis as well as the generation of results took less than 30 seconds. The same file took FIVE 4.5 minutes to complete the task. We checked a select number of frames in each tool and found the results to be the same.

For Macroblock Analysis on this random .re4 file - score one for Input-Ace.

There were just a few lossless encoded blocks in the target area. With every other line of resolution missing and no usable data in the target area, there's no conclusion possible. All you're left with is "white car." Sure, you can attempt a Vehicle Determination Examination. You may get make / model / and range of model years. That might help narrow the search a bit.

Given that a majority of cases die at the Content Triage step, getting quickly and easily to and through that step is vital. With Input-Ace and this file, we were done with the case in less than 2 minutes. With FIVE and this file, the unexplained length of processing time for the Macroblock Analysis made it take more than double the amount of time to get to "no, sorry."

Of course, the rebuttal will be that FIVE contains so many more tools vs. Input-Ace - which is true.  But, who cares about fixing fisheye or rectifying the image if the question, "what is license plate," is unanswerable? 90%-95% of the time, folks just need a quick answer ... that's actually quick.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Amped's DVRConv is their product for the quick creation of proxy files. Again, you're correct(ish). DVRConv does not support all of the formats that FIVE does. In this case, loading the .re4 file into DVRConv caused the program to crash. If all you had was DVRConv, you'd be out of luck with this file.

As a final aside, I do like that Input-Ace reports the non-standard frames/second tag as "Unknown" (see the above graphic) as opposed to the FFMPEG default of 25fps (as FIVE does). Sure, I can restore the frame rate in both programs, but the untrained person may assume that 25fps is correct and not take steps to restore the proper rate. Remember, the triage steps aren't always performed by trained analysts. They're often performed ahead of the decision to engage with the analyst. [shameless plug - seats are open for our upcoming training sessions - click here for more info or to sign up]

That's going to about do it for the Input-Ace vs FIVE comparisons. By now, I think you get the points. Besides, there's a cool new plug-in from Chris Russ that deserves a look.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Redaction of Multimedia Evidence

Recent legal changes in the United States have impacted the way in which agencies handle video / multimedia evidence requests from the public. Complying with the new laws, and maintaining compliance with state and federal privacy codes requires agencies to manage the processing of requests quite carefully. Requests for records around a critical event can quickly swamp an agency’s staff given the new statutory time frames for the release of data.

For example, California Senate Bill 1421, Skinner (D. Berkeley), opens public access to internal investigations of police shootings and other incidents where an officer killed or seriously injured someone, as well to sustained findings of sexual assault and lying on the job.

Another example is California Assembly Bill 748, Ting (D. San Francisco), which requires police departments to release within 45 days audio or video footage of shootings or other incidents involving serious use of force, unless it would interfere with an active investigation.

With this in mind, agencies often have to get up to speed on the tech (and how to use it) fast. But, they don't always have a budget to send people to training - or to bring an instructor to their agency.

Redaction actually lends itself quite nicely to the on-line micro-learning model. That's why I've designed a curriculum for redaction using the most popular software platforms from Adobe, Amped, Audacity, and Vegas Pro. Because it's micro-learning, folks can take up to 60 days to complete the course - meaning they can fit it into their busy schedules. Also, the courses are reasonably priced.

  • AL110 - Redaction for Standards Compliance - featuring the Adobe Creative Suite tools. 
  • AL111 - Redaction for Standards Compliance - featuring Magix Vegas Pro 16 + Audacity. 
  • AL112 - Redaction for Standards Compliance - featuring Amped FIVE + Audacity.
  • AL113 - Redaction for Standards Compliance - featuring Adobe, Amped, Audacity, and Magix tools.

AL110, AL111, and AL112 (registration fee = $249 per student) are for those agencies that have already decided on a platform and want to save money - training on a single software solution. AL113 (registration fee = $349 per student) is for those that haven't yet decided on a platform and want information / instruction on the most popular software solutions.

These multimedia redaction courses will get the agency and their redaction staff up to speed on the issues and the technology necessary to bring the agency into compliance with the new laws.

Head on over to the web site for more information and sign up today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

New courses coming this week

I'm putting the finishing touches on the redaction courses that I've been working on. I've presented redaction (audio / video) as in-person training for years. This week, I'll release the micro-learning versions of the courses.
  • AL110 - Redaction for California SB1421 / AB748 Compliance - featuring the Adobe Creative Suite tools.
  • AL111 - Redaction for California SB1421 / AB748 Compliance - featuring the Magic Software tools (Vegas Pro 16 + Sound Forge Audio Cleaning Lab).
  • AL112 - Redaction for California SB1421 / AB748 Compliance - featuring the Amped FIVE and Audacity.
  • AL113 - Introduction to Redaction of Multimedia Evidence - features processing in Adobe, Amped, Audacity, and Magix software products.
Whilst AL110, AL111, and AL112 were designed with the new redaction laws in California in mind, they're a lower cost option for those agencies who want to focus on a single software package. The California laws require a fast turnaround of redaction requests whilst forbidding the agency from charging the requestor or seeking reimbursement from the state. With this in mind, the workflow is geared towards efficiency and speed. As such, agencies / employees around the world can benefit from this course.

AL113 is perfect for those agencies / employees exploring the concept for the first time as well as those looking at the various software packages available for off-line redaction. 
  • Adobe and Magix products are ubiquitous in the marketplace, enjoying a massive customer base. For off-line redaction, they are cost effective and relatively simple to use.
  • Amped FIVE was chosen as many agencies have purchased it for redaction and analysis. It's probably the fastest manual redaction tool on the market, even though it's not a redaction tool as such (it's an analysis platform that contains redaction functionality). FIVE doesn't have the ability to redact audio. Thus, I've paired it with Audacity, an amazingly easy to use freeware audio editor.
For all of our training offerings, visit our training page by clicking here. At your location, at our location, or on-line - think of us for all your training needs.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Tilde - a most profound character

Every single character in a technical specification means something. Sometimes, the character is rather significant. The Tilde (~) is one of those rather significant characters often found in DVR / NVR spec sheets.

Take this specification from a typical Dahua DVR.

The video frame rate is an approximate value (e.g. ~30f/s for NTSC). It's not an exact value. It's a $7 box of random parts, not a Swiss chronometer. Thus, the folks at Dahua are hedging by saying - we're going to try to get each channel to the specified frame rate, but don't hold us to it.

We know that the Tilde does not mean "between" in this document. The clue is in the bit rate. The bit rate is given as a range. For the 4-Ch version, the rate is 2048Kbps-4096Kbps. Read aloud, it's "between 2048Kbps and 4096Kbps."

Thus, in building a performance model of a specific DVR for case work, one will need to find the range of values in which the approximate FPS for the specific DVR falls.

Basic condition of the DVR

For the 4-Ch, what happens inside the evidence (FPS / camera) DVR when:

  • A single channel is recording normally but none of the others is recording (no motion detected / no alarm). (test for each channel)
  • Two channels are recording normally and two are not. (test for each combination of two channels)
  • Three channels are recording normally and one is not. (test for each combination of three channels)
  • All four channels are recording normally.
  • All four channels are set to record on motion only. Repeat the above but instead of pressing the record button for normal recording, cause a motion trigger recording.
  • If alarm functionality is present: all four channels are set to record on alarm only. Repeat the above but instead of pressing the record button for normal recording, cause an alarm trigger recording.
How reliable is the Basic Condition? Better put, how variable are the results? Given the signal path inside the average Chinese DVR, like Dahua, will the four channels feed into a single encoder? How does the signal path prioritize data when all channels are feeding it data? Same question for when the data is headed across the bus to the HDD? What does it's error state look like? To find out, you need a proper / valid sample set of tests. How big will that sample set be? How does 164 complete run throughs of the above scenario work for you?

Usually, when a number this large is quoted, folks will complain about the cost. But, there's another cost to factor - the cost of being wrong. You see from the graph below that under about 50 test sets, your chances of being wrong are greater than your chances of being right. Put another way, under 50 test sets, you're better off flipping a coin. This is something, the calculation of sample sizes, that I cover in my class - Statistics for Forensic Analysts.

Back to the evidence file. I've seen some DVRs insist upon producing a container that had an even distribution of 30 FPS every time. But, an examination of the frames within that container proved that many of the frames within a GOP were exact duplicates of other frames. Meaning? The machine got overwhelmed and padded the container such that it could maintain the specified rate? For this determination, frames were extracted from the container and Similarity Metrics were calculated. Correlation coefficients were 1 - match, no difference.

All of this information is a bit expensive in time and technology to discover. But, it's vital to know this information in certain types of cases involving video - reconstruction of police uses of force, traffic investigations, and etc.

If you'd like to know more, shoot me an email.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A few quick comments about hash values and DVR files

By now, it's well known that the world of DVR forensics and computer forensics kind of looks the same, but really isn't quite the same. Answers to questions regarding DVR forensics often start with "it depends."

In the world of digital forensics, every item of evidence should / must be hashed upon receipt. And ... the same is true for DVR files in the world of forensic video analysis. You should hash all files upon receipt.

You receive a couple of .264 files from a crime scene, you hash them, then you make copies, and begin your work. If you're working a computer forensic style of workflow, then your copies are "true and exact copies of the originals." But, you're working a forensic video analysis type workflow. Your copies are not true and exact copies of the originals - they're proxy files. Proxy means substitute / stand-in. They're "converted." The process of creating the proxy - re-wrapping the data stream, carving out the time stamp ... all of those convenient things we do to make our lives easier ... means that the resulting proxy file will not have the same hash value as the original from the crime scene. And ... that's OK. That's normal.

Using a tool like FTK imager, one can hash a whole project folder. In the folder are the original files, the proxy files, any other derivative files, etc. A quick examination of the hash values clearly shows that the hash of the original .264 files (green) does not match the hash of the .avi proxy files (red). Again, that's OK. That's normal.

As forensic video analysts, we need to know that (a) this is happening and (b) it's normal. If you have to create a proxy file in order to work and respond to the request, this mismatch of the hash values will happen. Just hash the resulting files in the working folder to keep a record of them as they were created. Pull a still frame out as a separate file? Hash it. Carve out the time stamp as a separate file? Hash it.

As worlds converge, there will be a bit of sorting out of procedures and dialog. It's OK.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Simple image and video processing

I'm back doing product reviews and comparisons. Yay!

In the blog post announcing my joining the Amped team a few years ago, its CEO noted "Jim is well known also for his direct, unfiltered and passionate style."

It's been a while, but the directness and passion are still here; and I have yet to find a filter. ;) ... and, in case you missed it, I'm no longer part of the Amped team. More on that in a future post.

Today's test - Input-Ace vs Amped FIVE for simple image / video processing. *

To facilitate the test, I've enlisted the help of an analyst from a private lab with Input-Ace and FIVE. I just needed a few stills and screen shots to work with. The test begins with a video extracted by me from a black box 2CIF DVR, the kind that are rather ubiquitous here in the US. It's one of my test/validate files, so I know the values that we are starting with.

The task: "I just need a still image of the vehicle for a BOLO." This should be a 2 minute process .. or less.

Now, the process and tools are a bit different when working in Input-Ace vs Amped FIVE. But, I devised a test of something I used to do several times per day at the LAPD - process 2 CIF video for a flyer. Resize / Aspect Ratio - problems of resolution can be fixed in either tool.

My experiment is two-fold.
  1. How fast / easy is it to load a video, fix the resolution issue (restore the missing information that happens when the DVR is set to ignore every other line of resolution - 2 CIF), and output a still for a BOLO.
  2. What's the difference in quality between the two processes? Is there a difference in the results? If so, what is it?

The "workflow engine" way of working is not natural to me. But, my friend is rather proficient with the tool and noted that fixing the resolution issue was a two-step process - first restore the aspect ratio and then restore the size. Each step in Input-Ace utilized  Nearest Neighbor interpolation. The time to configure the filters and output a still was less than 30 seconds.

Nearest neighbor simply copies the value of the closest pixel in the position to be interpolated. (Anil. K. Jain, “Fundamentals of Digital Image Processing”, Prentice Hall, pp. 253–255, 320–322, 1989. ISBN: 0-13-336165-9.)

For FIVE, this solution is equally easy - the Line Doubling filter (Deinterlace > Line Doubling). Line Doubling utilized a Linear interpolation. As with Input-Ace, the time to configure the filters and output a still was less than 30 seconds.

Linear interpolates two adjacent lines. (E. B. Bellers and G. de Haan, “Deinterlacing - An overview”, in Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 86, No. 9, pp. 1839–1857, Sep. 1998. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/5.705528.)

In terms of speed and ease of use - it's a tie. 

Remember, this task isn't an "analysis" as such. This process is one of those common requests - we just need an image, quickly, for a BOLO. But, you want to fix the problems with the file before giving the investigator their image. Sending out a 2 CIF image without correcting / restoring the resolution could lead to problems with recognition as the images appear "squashed."

Next, I wanted to know if there was a qualitative difference between the two resulting files. This is where FIVE excels - analysis. FIVE's implementation of Similarity Metrics (Link > Video Mixer) was used.

The results:
  • SAD (Sum of Absolute Differences - mean) (0 .. 255): 2.0677.
  • PSNR (Peak Signal to Noise Ratio - dB): 28.7395.
  • MSSIM (Mean Structural Similarity) (0 .. 1): 0.9335.
  • Correlation (Correlation Coefficient.) (-1 .. 1): 0.9895.
A rather definitive result. As regards the correlation coefficient, a value of exactly 1.0 means there is a perfect positive relationship between the two variables. A value of -1.0 means there is a perfect negative relationship between the two variables. If the correlation is 0, there is no relationship between the two variables. A correlation coefficient with an absolute value of 0.9 or greater represents a very strong relationship. In this case, the value is 0.9895 ... or very nearly 1. The other results can confirm quantitatively what your eyes can see qualitatively - to the eye, the results are virtually identical. Same truck. No visual loss of details.

From a qualitative standpoint - it's a tie.

Thus, if the two pieces of software can deliver what is visually the same result, in the same amount of time, then what's the tie breaker? Features? Service? Price?

The tie breaker is for you to decide. What features are "must haves?" What are the terms of service? Are they acceptable to your agency? What's the better value for your agency, your caseload, and your workflow?

For features, does it matter if there are 130 filters / tools if you only use about a dozen of them on a regular basis? I'm in a different place in my casework now - more "analysis" than "processing." For me, the value proposition based on features still tilts towards Amped's tools. Besides, I've had my license for years now. I'm not coming at the tool for the first time. For many at the local police level, it's more processing than analysis - with analysis being done at the prosecutor's office. Input-Ace as a production tool is quite well positioned. As an analysis tool, you'll need something else for now. The testimony of Input-Ace's primary evangelist, Grant Fredericks, will confirm that it's major part of his tool-set, but not the only tool he uses.

For the terms of service, examine each product's End User License Agreement - otherwise known as "that thing you don't read as you install the software." The EULA is the company's promise to you - the terms of what you're getting. Are the terms acceptable? If you're in North America, can you get someone on the phone to help during business hours? Input-Ace vs Amped contact pages are linked here for your convenience. Are you OK with a web portal as your only option?

For price, it can only be published price vs. published price. I am told that the quoted price for an annual subscription of Input-Ace is US$3k. The generally quoted price of a perpetual license of FIVE is EUR 9000. The EUR / USD exchange has been quite volatile of late, so the dollar price has come down a bit under US$11k on the exchange. I believe that a perpetual license of Input-Ace is available, but I don't have information on that price ... nor do I know an agency that has gone that route.

Then there's the ordering component of price. Price doesn't matter if you can't order the product. Can your agency pre-pay for goods via an office shared in Brooklyn, NY, with 40+ other entities at any price? States like New Jersey and Illinois forbid such pre-payment explicitly. Counties and cities like Los Angeles forbid pre-payment practically. Did you check up on the business? Run a Bizapedia search on the business. Do you get a result? Do you recognize the names? Does anything look odd? FIVE's EULA indicates that support will be done via the web portal, not at their "NY office." Are those terms acceptable? Then check the provider of the competition. Do the same thing. Run a Bizapedia search. Recognize any names? It may not be your money that your agency is spending, but due diligence is necessary nonetheless.

I'm of the firm belief that any true comparison of products must include the total experience - comparing the features as well as the user / customer experience. Features are pretty straightforward. User / customer experiences vary from person to person.  I've shared mine with you. Feel free to share yours with me.

*An important note: this was a simple case study. It's results were valid for what specifically was studied. It's not meant to validate either tool for use on a particular case, or your particular case. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The return of product reviews and comparisons

Some of the things that I haven't been able to do for some time are product reviews and comparisons. First, the blog was all but shut down by my LAPD CO. Then, in my LE retirement, I was able to do product features when I was employed at Amped Software, Inc., to be sure. But, I was never allowed to compare / contrast Amped SRL's tools with others available on the market. Now that I'm on my own, I can pick up where I left off. There's a lot of catching up to do. Well, it's time ...

First out of the gate: Input-ACE vs Amped FIVE.

I will examine some common workflows and file processing challenges. I won't hold anything back.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Calculating the cost of redacting police body worn video

There's been an interesting back and forth over the release of body camera video and the cost of redaction happening in Washington DC. As someone who teaches and performs redactions, I've been following it with some interest.

Here's the source document that I'll be referencing from DC Transparency Watch.

I first got wind of this from a tweet. Here's a copy:

It seems that an elected neighborhood representative wanted DC Metro to release "the video" of the incident. What's not in dispute is that 7 officers arrived to find 3 juveniles, resulting in 229 minutes of footage. The elected official's tweet certainly indicates her displeasure at being invoiced for services needed to fulfill her request.

Whilst not every state allows agencies to charge for the production of redacted copies of video / audio, it seems that the Federal City does.

To some, $5,387.00 dollars might seem a bit much. But, is it a fair charge? How did the MPD come up with this rather precise number? MPD's initial response to the request was an invoice indicating a charge for 229 minutes at $23 per minute. Again, where does this number come from? Is it fair?

There's some interesting back and forth on social media about this, like the email reply shown above. But, I was more concerned with the cost calculation.

As I teach redaction, I use a job costing formula that looks like this:

( ___ [total footage time per recording] x ____ [processing time per minute of recording]) x ___ [total subjects or objects to redact] = ___ minutes x ___ recorders = ___ minutes to complete the task. Total time x ___ $/hr (employee cost) = ____ total cost.

The total footage time, in this case, gets divided by the total number of officers on scene with BWCs. The processing time per minute of recording varies based upon what task is being performed. In the standards compliant workflow that I teach, these tasks are Triage, Redaction Task, and Redaction Quality Assurance. Each of these steps use the same formula, but the processing time per minute varies - Triage is the longest, then QA, then the actual redaction task. There's case management and supervisory review to factor in as well.
Note: (I do give the complete formula and all of the variables in class)

Based on the above formula, I calculated that it would take about 311 hours to complete the request. A police records clerk in DC earns between $38k and $45k per year (source). Many states also factor in the total employment cost of the employee, which includes pension and benefits. Also considering that the supervisor most likely earns more, I calculated the average hourly rate to be $26/hr. With this in mind, the cost to fulfill this request would be $8,089.38.  Not far off from what the representative was invoiced.

Assuming that MPD is overworked and that likely some of the workflow was skipped, and assuming that the agency just billed the average employee cost at salary without benefits and pension, the numbers were adjusted. I eliminated the QA step and adjusted the hourly rate to $22/hr. The new totals look like this: 231.01 hours x $22/hr = $5,082.22 - right about where the MPD ended up with their invoice.

I don't intend to weigh in on the politics of one branch of the same government charging another branch. I mean only to illustrate the rational basis of setting costs for redaction of body camera video - or any video that is in police custody and subject to privacy restrictions before public release.

Cost estimation is a necessary step in the process.
  • Supervisors need to know how long it will take to perform each step in the process in order to know whom to assign the work.
  • The process needs to know how long it will take such that the requestor can have an estimated completed date (most statutes require notification if the turn around will be longer than 7 days).
  • Agencies need to know how long these requests take to fulfill such that appropriate staffing levels are maintained.
  • When agencies evaluate technology for redaction, they need a baseline calculation in order to gauge the proposed cost/time numbers.
This exercise is just a peek at what is covered in our Redaction courses. We offer a course specific to California's new laws, a course that covers the issue in the generic (both legal and technical) and is thus applicable all over, as well as courses that cover the general legal environment combined with  the specific technology used for the redaction tasks - Adobe, Amped (with Audacity), or Magix. We offer them either on-site (ours or yours) or on-line. Click here for more information. We'd love to see you in one soon.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Evaluating Research

As analysts, we rely upon research to form the basis of our work. If we're conducting a 3D measurement exercise utilizing Single View Metrology, as operationalized by the programmers at Amped SRL, we're relying not only upon the research of Antonio Criminisi and his team, but also the programmers who put his team's work into their tool. We trust that all those involved in the process are acting in good faith. More often than not, analysts don't dig around to check the research that forms the foundation of their work.

In my academic life, I've conducted original research, I've supervised the research of others, I teach research methods, I've acted as an anonymous peer-reviewer, and I participate in and supervise an Institutional Review Board (IRB). In my academic life, as well as in my professional life as an analyst, I use the model shown above to guide my research work.

For those that are members of the IAI, and receive the Journal of Forensic Identification, you may have noticed that the latest edition features two letters to the editor that I submitted last summer. For those that don't receive the JFI, you can follow along here but there's no link that I can provide to share the letters as the JFI does not allow the general public to view it's publications. Thus, I'm sharing a bit about my thought process in evaluating the particular article that prompted my letters here on the blog.

The article that prompted my letter dealt with measuring 3D subjects depicted in a 2D medium (Meline, K. A., & Bruehs, W. E. (2018). A comparison of reverse projection and laser scanning photogrammetry. Journal of Forensic Identification, 68(2), 281-292), otherwise known as photogrammetry.

When evaluating research, using the model shown above, one wants to think critically. As a professional, I have to acknowledge that I know both of the authors and have for some time. But, I have to set that aside, mitigating any "team player bias" and evaluate their work on it's own merits. Answers to questions about validity and value should not be influenced by my relationships but by the quality of the research alone.

The first stop on my review is a foundation question, is the work experimental or non-experimental? There is a huge difference between the two. In experimental research an independent variable is manipulated in some way to find out how it will affect the dependent variable. For example, what happens to recorded frame rate in a particular DVR when all camera inputs are under motion or alarm mode? "Let's put them all under load and see" tests the independent variables' (camera inputs) potential influence on the dependent variable (recorded file) to find out if / how one affects the other.  In non-experimental research there is no such manipulation, it's largely observational. Experimental research can help to determine causes, as one is controlling the many factors involved. In general, non-experimental research can not help to determine causes. Experimental research is more time consuming to conduct, and thus more costly.

With this in mind, I read the paper looking for a description of the variables involved in the study - what was being studied and how potential influencing factors were being controlled. Finding none, I determined that the study was non-experimental - the researchers simply observed and reported.

The case study featured a single set of equipment and participants. The study did not examine the outputs from a range of randomly chosen DVRs paired with randomly chosen cameras. Nor did the study include a control group of participants.  For the comparison of the methods studied, the study did not feature a range of laser scanners or a range of tools in which to create the reverse projection demonstratives. No discussion as to the specifics of the tool choices was given.

For the participants, those performing the measurement exam, no random assignment was used. Particularly troubling, the participants used in the study were co-workers of the researchers. Employees represent a vulnerable study population and problems can arise when these human subjects are not able to properly consent to participating in the research. As an IRB supervisor, this situation raises the issue of potential bias. As an IRB supervisor, I would expect to see a statement about how the bias would be mitigated in the research and that the researchers' IRB had acknowledged and approved of the research design. Unfortunately, no such statement exists in the study. Given that the study was essentially a non-experimental test of human subjects, and not an experimental test of a particular technology or technique, an IRB's approval is a must. One of the two letters that I submitted upbraided the editorial staff of the JFI for not enforcing it's own rules as regards their requirement for an IRB approval statement for tests of human subjects.

Given the lack of control for bias and extraneous variables, the lack of randomness of participant selection, and the basic non-experimental approach of the work, I decided that this paper could not inform my work or my choice in employing a specific tool or technique.

Digging a bit deeper, I looked at the authors' support for statements made - their references. I noticed that they chose to utilize some relatively obscure or largely unavailable sources. The chosen references would be unavailable to the average analyst without the analyst paying hundreds of dollars to check just one of the references. In my position, however, I have access to a world of research for free through my affiliations with various universities. So, I checked their references.

What I found, and thus reported to the Editor, was that many times the cited materials could not be applied to support the statements made in the research. In a few instances, the cited material actually refuted the authors' assertions.

In the majority of the cited materials, the authors noted that their work couldn't be used to inform a wider variety of research, that case-specific validity studies should be conducted by those engaged in the technique described, or that they were simply offering a "proof-of-concept" to the reader.

In evaluating this particular piece of research, I'm not looking to say - "don't do this technique" or "this technique can't be valid." I want to know if I can use the study to inform my own work in performing photogrammetry. Unfortunately, due to the problems noted in my letters, I can't.

If you're interested in engaging in the creation of mixed-methods demonstratives for display in court, Occam's Input-ACE has an overlay feature that allows one to mix the output from a laser scan into a project that contains CCTV footage. The overlay feature is comparable to a "reverse projection" - it's a demonstrative used to illustrate and reinforce testimony. A "reverse projection" demonstrative is not, in and of itself, a measurement exercise / photogrammetry. Though it is possible to set up the demonstrative, then use SVM to measure within the space. If one wants to measure within the space in such a way as a general rule (not case specific), proper validity studies need to be conducted. At the time of the writing of this post, no such validity studies exist for the calculation of measurements with such a mixed measures approach. If one is so inclined, the model above can be used to both design and evaluate such a study. Until then, I'll continue on with Single View Metrology as the only properly validated 3D measurement technique for 3D subjects / objects depicted within a 2D medium.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What is Analysis?

What is analysis?

a·nal·y·sis [əˈnaləsəs] - NOUN
     analyses (plural noun)

  • detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. "statistical analysis" · "an analysis of popular culture"
synonyms: examination · investigation · inspection · survey · scanning · study · scrutiny · perusal · exploration · probe · research · inquiry · anatomy · audit · review · evaluation · interpretation · anatomization

  • the process of separating something into its constituent elements. Often contrasted with synthesis. "the procedure is often more accurately described as one of synthesis rather than analysis"

synonyms: dissection · assay · testing · breaking down · separation · reduction · decomposition · fractionation
antonyms: synthesis

Forensic science is the systematic and coherent study of traces to address questions of authentication, identification, classification, reconstruction, and evaluation for a legal context.  (Source: A Framework to Harmonize Forensic Science Practices and Digital/Multimedia Evidence. OSAC Task Group on Digital/Multimedia Science. 2017)

What is a trace? A trace is any modification, subsequently observable, resulting from an event. You walk within the view of a CCTV system, you leave a trace of your presence within that system.

Thus, forensic video analysis (or forensic multimedia analysis) can be seen as a systematic and coherent examination of video (multimedia) traces (elements) to address questions of authentication, identification, classification, reconstruction, and evaluation for a legal context.

In the former definition, we can see the quantitative nature of analysis. The latter definition reveals it's potential qualitative elements.

In a quantitative data analysis, things are stable, controlled - facts can be obtained (facts are measurable / objective). In a qualitative data analysis, things are dynamic. Your role as an observer may influence the analysis. What is "true" depends on the situation & setting (truths are things we "know" - subjective). A quantitative study is controlled. A qualitative study is observed.

A qualitative study's purpose is to describe or understand something. The purpose of a quantitative study is to test, resolve, or predict something (e.g. in order to use a DVR to determine speed of an object within it's derivative video files - results will be a range of values, one must resolve how the DVR creates files "typically" through a controlled series of tests).

The analyst's viewpoint during a quantitative study is logical, empirical, deductive (conclusion guaranteed). In a qualitative study, it's situational and inductive (conclusion merely likely) or abductive (taking one's best shot). Performing a comparative analysis with convenience samples is an example of taking one's best shot. A quantitative study would feature an appropriate sample size calculation and note any limitations that arose as a result of not being able to achieve the appropriate samples.

From a contextual standpoint, a quantitative's context is not taken into consideration but rather controlled via methodological procedures. In this way, potential bias is mitigated. In a qualitative study, context matters - values, feelings, opinions, individual participants matter.

In a quantitative study, the analyst seeks to solve, to conclude, or to verify a predetermined hypothesis. With a qualitative study, the orientation changes - seeking rather to discover or explore. This can occur often in investigations - new information developed leads to changes in the direction of the investigation as things / people are ruled-in / ruled-out.

In a quantitative analysis, the inputs and results are numerical - data is in the form of numbers / numerical info. A qualitative analysis is narrative in nature - data is in the form of words, sentences, paragraphs, notes, or  pictures / graphics / etc.

After conducting a quantitive analysis, one's results / findings can be generalized to other populations or situations. The results of a qualitative analysis are case specific, particular, or specialized.

With all of this in mind, what is analysis? What type of analysis are you conducting? What type of analysis are you reporting? When analyzing the work of other analysts, what type of work are they conducting / reporting?

You can use this dialog to build a template / matrix. In reviewing work, examine the elements above to determine if the work is quantitative or qualitative. For example, you're reviewing an analyst's work in on a measurement request (photogrammetry). The results section features a picture that has been marked up with arrows and text. No methodology is discussed. These results would be considered qualitative. If the results section featured a conclusion, a range of values, error estimation, and a reference / methodology section, it could be considered quantitative. You could take the analyst's data and reproduce their study - which is not possible from an annotated picture.

The elements for a quantitative analysis described above, when reported back to the Trier of Fact, help ensure that you've maintained standards compliance (ASTM E2825-18). Rhetorical or narrative statements are fine for the introductory section of your report - a summary of the request - but are not sufficient for supporting a conclusion or describing one's processes.

If you'd like to know more, join me in an upcoming training session. For more information or to sign up, click here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The importance of audio

It's been about 4 years now since the body-worn camera really exploded on the scene. Citizens demanded accountability and transparency from their police and the market responded with cameras of all types.  Cameras have been deployed on the officer, on the vehicle, and in the air (drones / helicopters). Citizens like the real-time view that theses cameras bring in reviewing officers' interactions with the public. BUT ... these cameras often come with a very sensitive microphone that can clearly capture not only the words of the officers but also every single sound within about 25' radius. This can be a problem in light of the various privacy laws that exist in the US.

This mind-blowing amount of data is sitting in servers at police stations and in the cloud via platforms like Evidence.com. The majority of the cloud vendors offer a solution to accommodate records act releases in light of the many privacy laws that require compliance. But, as users are finding out, pennies saved on features not purchased are costing them dollars when dealing with redaction and other requests for the video they store.

When an agency goes through an equipment purchasing process, they often expend all of their resources and are locked into the solution for years - sometimes a decade or longer. Thus, the test / validate process becomes vital. It's equally vital that all stakeholders participate.

Many agencies purchased camera and storage solutions, but skipped on a redaction plan to come under spending targets. Or, they had a legal structure that let them deny requests for data at the time - but that legal assurance no longer exists (California's new laws are an example of this). They're now faced with new challenges as laws have been enacted / changed to assure that disclosure of videos is the norm, not the exception. Given the guidance in SWGDE's Video and Audio Redaction Guidelines, that redaction must include the audio, video, and metadata, agencies are scrambling to cobble together solutions to fulfill records requests in a timely and cost effective manor.

Video redaction is rather straight forward. Many tools have offered the basic blur, mosaic, and/or solid shape redactions for video content for quite some time. The COTS tools from Adobe, Apple, Avid, Magic all offer some form of global or selective video redaction. There are purpose built redaction tools from Axon, Ikena, etc. that offer redaction as well. Tools like Amped's FIVE have the ability to redact video. BUT ... it's the audio / metadata redaction where many tools fall short.

Amped SRL's CEO promised audio redaction in FIVE in 2106 at the LEVA Training Symposium in Scottsdale in support of Amped's partnership with Axon (who were both present at the Symposium as vendors). To date, audio redaction still has not been implemented in FIVE. Sure, if audio is present in the file, FIVE will pass it through or strip it out. But FIVE isn't an audio editing / redacting tool. For redactions with FIVE, I suggest using FIVE to separate the audio and using a tool like Audacity to edit / redact the audio. At leas Audacity is free and easy to use. If an agency has multiple people working on redaction, it really does make sense to split up the redaction tasks anyway (audio / video / metadata), so I guess the lack of audio support in FIVE for the redaction task isn't that big of a deal.

Ikena's Spotlight suffers similarly. Though it supports audio redaction, it's lack of support for proprietary / secure video file types makes it a tough sell to agencies. In a comparison of FIVE vs Spotlight for redaction, it's a close call. FIVE gives you support for odd file types as well as a full suite of restoration / clarification filters. Spotlight gives you a dedicated redaction platform for audio and video. Both fall short on identifying / redacting specific elements of a file's metadata.

I've been quite the cheerleader for Amped's products over the years, and have noted their strengths for a while now. I've been teaching their product line for over 7 years now, creating and delivering a curriculum that's rather specific to forensic science. But, the lack of audio support has always been the elephant in the room. For example, with the older Video Mixer and new Multiview filters, audio is simply dropped. Users expect to mix video views to create compelling demonstratives - that include an audio source. But these filters do not allow the user to select an audio source for the resulting file. With this, they end up processing the file in a non-linear editor. This issue is where the lack of audio support becomes a big deal and brings us back to that "one tool to fix everything" discussion. It's quite obvious by now that Amped SRL wants to have the best video / image tool, and doesn't want to concern themselves with audio / metadata.

This brings us back to redaction, and the other parts of the multimedia container. If you're going to need an audio editor anyway, and if you're going to have to assemble the separately redacted parts as a final step, why not just do everything in a COTS tool and save the money?

For these reasons, and a few others, the decision was made to offer our redaction courses in many flavors. In standing up training and professional services as a separate organization this year, we can offer training in performing redactions with the relevant COTS platforms as well as a more generic redaction course for supervisory / quality control staff. The initial roll-out of our redaction classes will happen in March 2019 and feature the Adobe Creative Suite tools, Magix Software tools, and Amped SRL's FIVE paired with Audacity - each offered as a separate class. Also the generic course will highlight the different tools, focussing on the process without diving too deeply on the technology.

Recent court cases involving body-worn cameras have highlighted the importance of the devices' audio. Audio is a vital piece of the container. The audio track is often used to confirm / refute elements of complaints, uses of force, and other events that unfold before the device. Because it is present in the container, it must be redacted carefully and accurately. Because audio must be redacted, your redaction solution must include the ability to redact audio. Because it must be redacted, our training sessions feature a variety of options from the big vendors. Stay tuned ...