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Omaha Police advance investigations with video forensics grant

As the largest city in Nebraska, Omaha is also the 40th largest city in the United States, with a population approaching 500,000 residents across an area of about 120 square miles.

Its nickname, “Gateway to the West,” came from the city’s Missouri River crossing at the Lone Tree Ferry, which settlers and prospectors used during the 19th century to reach the American West.

Since the 1990s, Omaha has had a lower rate of violent crimes than similar cities, according to the FBI. In 2006, Omaha was ranking 46th out of 72 cities for homicides. In addition, property crimes have decreased in recent years. In 2007, however, there was an increase in crime and gang-related shootings, likely due to new gangs affiliated with others in Los Angeles.

The Omaha Police Department provides impartial, ethical and professional law enforcement service and protection to maintain the trust and confidence of its citizens, while working to improve the quality of life. The department has 821 sworn officers and is the largest law enforcement agency in Nebraska. There are also 144 full-time and 24 part-time, non-sworn personnel.

The Omaha PD seeks to reduce crimes and the fear of crime by working with neighborhoods to solve problems. For one example, officers use the well-attended local sporting events, from amateur and pro to college, to interact personally with the community. The department also addresses crime by adopting new technologies that advance investigations and identify hot spots.

VideoFOCUS Pro

One recent technology adoption by Omaha Police was the deployment of the VideoFOCUS Pro video forensics system from Salient Stills. Criminalist Todd Petrick, with the Omaha PD Crime Laboratory, supervises the night shift team, which responds quickly to crime scenes and gathers fresh evidence, including video. Given the prevalence of security cameras, crimes are often caught on videotape, closed circuit TV systems, digital video cameras and even cell phones. However, these videos can be fuzzy or grainy, making it a challenge to identify suspects or view clear details of a crime in progress. Further complicating the use of video is that each system stores video in proprietary formats, making it difficult to easily capture specific sequences for further analysis and viewing.

The Results

In addition to Petrick, there are two other members of his team who use the video forensics technology. Each must perform multiple tasks at each crime scene, including reviewing video evidence and extracting useful stills and videos that can be used for leads and to identify suspects.

“We looked at several video forensics systems, and there was just a ton of training required,” Petrick stated. “The ability to jump in and use VideoFOCUS Pro with minimal training was the deciding factor. My team and I were able to use it quickly and efficiently.”

The Omaha PD purchased VideoFOCUS Pro with help from the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program, which awards grants “to help improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science and medical examiner services.” In addition to ease of use, Petrick needed a video forensic system that had the ability to capture and process digital video feeds. “Our digital case load was increasing and we wanted to increase our efficiency and decrease the backlog of digital video evidence,” he said. Coverdell program funds are also intended to be used to eliminate backlogs in the analysis of forensic evidence, making the Omaha PD a good candidate.

Altogether, Petrick and his team have found VideoFOCUS Pro’s digital feature set superior to other video forensics systems, especially given that VideoFOCUS Pro can easily capture and export video from dozens of proprietary digital video formats through innovative processing algorithms. The team also likes the ability to quickly review each camera view frame by frame. Though the department does have one other video forensics system, most digital captures are done using VideoFOCUS Pro, which also processes the majority of digital video evidence. “Salient Stills’ technical support has always been prompt to answer questions, solve a problem, and trouble shoot,” Petrick added.

As for using the system, Petrick shared a recent example of VideoFOCUS Pro helping to solve a series of robberies and burglaries. Using crime scene videos processed by the system, the team was able to link the crimes, based on facial features and tattoos visible in clear stills generated by VideoFOCUS Pro. In one still, unique tattoos could be seen on a suspect’s head and hand. Other stills showed similar clothing worn by the suspects. Based on video evidence, the Omaha PD was able to connect the crimes, and identify the suspects.
The Solution

VideoFOCUS Pro processes video evidence while preserving its integrity. The system can cut, copy and paste to seamlessly edit and compose new videos; apply filters over long video sequences; and perform operations including histogram equalization, levels adjustment, sharpen, blur, and color space adjustments and video stabilization. VideoFOCUS Pro captures and imports, de-interlaces, de-multiplexes, quad separates, motion tracks and aligns, pinpoints fields of interest and archives digital files into usable formats.

The Omaha PD has used VideoFOCUS Pro to create higher resolution videos and stills for over one year, across what Petrick estimates to be about 250 investigations. Typically, these cases are for the city of Omaha, but, on occasion, the system has been used to develop leads and identify suspects for federal prosecutors and smaller police departments in Nebraska and Iowa.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2010

Rating : 10.0

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