Video makes the case

Chicago's approach to video enhancement helps solve crimes


     Procom provided the district with equipment and software for a trial period to allow officials to assess its usefulness as an investigative tool. After using the equipment for just over a month, more than a dozen arrests and more than a score of clear-ups were directly related to the use of this video enhancement equipment. In one instance, three arrests were made within hours from the original video of a pawn shop heist. While that video was being processed, district tactical officers present at the scene identified the subjects in the video as known gang members. Officials presented a mugshot photo array to the victim, who positively identified the offenders, and police later arrested them.

     Procom video enhancement products enabled the district to easily develop other applications that allowed still images, captured from video, to be electronically displayed during roll calls, sent to headquarters for crime watch alerts or bulletins, or reproduced for posting on unit bulletin boards.

     Word of these successes informally spread through the department, and Schober soon began receiving recordings from other department groups. This indicated to him that what the 16th District was accomplishing might be of value to others.

     In June 2006, Police Superintendent Phil Cline visited the 16th District to personally witness the results obtained through Procom's approach to video enhancement. After further demonstration at police headquarters, he directed steps be taken to implement the system in all five detective areas.

Procom and codecs
     To a large extent, the success Pustelnik's equipment demonstrated came from Procom's knowledge of codecs.

     Codec is the truncated version of two terms: code-decode (sometimes referred to as compression-decompression). Codecs provide the encryption for viewers that allow viewing of a specific video format. Often codecs are built into existing system platforms. Microsoft's Multi Media Player (MMP), for example, contains a number of codecs that allow video viewing.

     Codecs are used for video and audio files, and can be identified by their extensions, which appear after the file name. Sometimes a video file codec may have to be converted in order to view results on a viewer. Audiophiles know there are times when a codec for an audio source may have to be converted to play on an MP3 device, such as an iPOD, rather than on a CD.

     At the current stage of audio and video development, there is no "standard" for all files, which means there are several hundred codecs to choose from in order to obtain desired results. Fortunately, most files (probably 80 percent or more) may be opened with a few strong codecs that are generally available for download on the Internet.

What's inside the "box"
     The equipment that will be described shortly didn't just come out of a box; the Chicago PD started with equipment deemed best for the task at hand and added or subtracted from there.

     The 16th District's basic system begins with a dual core processor and RAID architecture. Video files can be large and take up a lot of space on hard drives so two 300-GB drives were employed. RAID 0, a mirroring technology, allows the drives to work in tandem to create the equivalent of a 600-GB hard drive and builds in a security measure to save data in a single drive failure. The memory was 2-GB SDRAM, although more is better. This system includes a DVD player, DVD-Writer, and seven reader ports to accept standard USB 2.0 flash drives and a variety of camera video memory cards, which allow for data input and recording.

     A 128-MB video card was installed to handle the high rate of information processed from video sources. The Chicago PD had used an ATI card, a good product, but one that conflicted with some of the software being used. Officials found a NVIDIA NX6200 card used with a Pinnacle capture card worked best for the department's purposes. Additionally, officers used an IEEE 1396 (firewire) card to transfer video directly from video cameras.

     A time lapse video recorder for VHS (analog) tapes also was used. This device doubles as a VHS player and a "time base converter," an option that can be expensive. Time base conversion stabilizes and adjusts erratic video signals. The recorder is currently useful but may be considered optional as video sources trend toward digital.

     The most obvious feature in the design of this system -- the one that gets the most immediate attention -- is the two 19-inch flat-screen monitors on the desk. Dual screens allow the user to view multiple applications without cluttering a single screen. For example, the user might view one screen, which contains the original image, while working on an image enhancement with different software on the other screen.

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