There have been a number of reports and news articles over the past few weeks that have caused me to stop and think. Each one, along with some pretty interesting telephone calls, have raised my concern on how things within the Forensic Video world are moving, especially in the UK.
Shortly before Christmas, I sat down with a Collision Investigator. It was a fascinating chat and I learned as much from him as he did from me. The point of the chat was to identify what his staff needed, in terms of software and knowledge, in order to correctly acquire, process, play, enhance and interpret digital video. In a nutshell, he left with the advice to invest in Amped FIVE. I know how well it is suited to his needs as I have trained a number of Collision Investigators in its use, and have witnessed first hand how it is helping their case work.
The other piece of information he left with was to identify who the Forensic Video Analysts were that he could turn to and trust.
I believe this to be the most important point. He understood that he was an expert in collision investigation. He was not an expert in Video. He understood the importance of knowing your own limitations and what you are an expert in.
I am clear on my own limitations. I am an expert in Video.
Oxford Dictionary: Expert
“A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area”
I am not an expert in Audio. I understand a lot, and can do certain things within my capabilities but anything ‘forensic’ – I call on the assistance of a suitably qualified forensic audio analyst.
What other forensic disciplines require the use of a Forensic Video Analyst?
What about Facial Comparisons – the so called ‘Facial Mapping’?
This came up again in the latest Forensic Regulators Report (Sec 1.9).
So, you are an expert in facial morphology? You have degrees, and doctorates, and have been researching it for years.
However, is the evidence admissible when the video used was never authenticated, it is proved not to be the original, and the incorrect processing has resulted in its aspect ratio being distorted.
If only the video had been dealt with by someone who was an expert in …video!
What about Gait analysis?
Digital video, and especially IP based systems are notoriously random. From variable frame rates, to the prediction of movement and the copying of data to reduce file size. How important is it to identify these issues if you are using a piece of CCTV in an attempt to analyze someones gait?
If a proprietary format has been trans-coded to make it easily playable, has the frame rate or encoding type changed certain aspects?
The UK CPS Guidance on expert evidence gives the Definition of Expert Witness as:
“A witness who provides to the court a statement of opinion on any admissible matter calling for expertise by the witness and is qualified to give such an opinion”.
Oxford Dictionary: Opinion
“A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”
I, however, like to deal with facts. I can use my expertise to identify facts. I can analyze a video to identify facts. I can enhance an image to identify facts. I can report and present those facts to other experts who can then use their expertise to identify… more facts!
So we have a situation where video is being sent to experts; collision, facial mapping, gait etc. and the video is wrong! Why?…. Because the Video is being dealt with incorrectly to start with, and those experts do not know this…because they are not experts in Video!
This is what concerns me. It’s actually scary. What makes it worse is that there are a number of UK Forces where senior officers actually don’t want experts in Video. I thought we were moving forward from a few years ago when I was told that I had “built an expertise that the force no longer required!”
Apparently not. There are some Forces simply holding off from working towards ISO 17025, and thereby ensuring the competency of their staff and the strength of their analysis.
I recently heard of one senior officer who disagreed that Video analysis was a forensic discipline and as such anybody could process the video – because it was quicker!
The CPS are still requesting processed video that they can play on a DVD player regardless of the errors…. and these then end up being sent to other experts!
My concerns are here, and plain to see (or read).
There are video experts for a reason, and they ‘should’ be in every police service or investigative agency in the world…. because if that original video is not handled correctly,everything after; from speed, to face, to gait – could be wrong!
Great article. We’ve witnessed some very relevant horror stories recently and done our best to educate the court as to why imagery experts were required. It is no easy task to when imagery is so ubiquitous and people feel so comfortable with it. It’s a case of not knowing what they don’t know!
Good to see our own thoughts being echoed here. Sadly, even with the event of 17025 accreditation, I think we’re years away from getting this problem resolved.
Very interesting and relevant post as usual. There are a few things that really ring true to me, especially in my geographic area. Like you said, many other disciplines that use video evidence do so without any real understanding of what they are looking at. I am guessing that anyone reading this blog get it, but how do you “advertise” the need for an expert in forensic video if many people in law enforcement as well as the criminal and civil arena don’t even know such a thing exists or that there is even a need for it?
Additionally, lab accreditation (to ISO 17025 or any other appropriate standard) is a means to help ensure that quality work is produced from a lab, but it is only a piece of the puzzle. In my opinion, universal certification (and regular proficiency testing) of “experts” in any field is just as, if not more, important than laboratory accreditation. Identifying a standard or accredited certification provider would go a long way to help the industry and the courts identify who a true expert is and hold all experts to the same standard.
Great post Spreadys!
The problem of ‘experts’ does somewhat mirror a similar potentially more widespread concern, which relates to being a “professional”, and as such having the ability to demonstrate a reasonable level of “professionalism”.
The world is full of professionals and experts, but only a tiny minority IMHO actually provide a thoroughly professional approach, or as you very correctly suggested, a level of expertise which is genuinely respected amongst their peers.
I’ve lost count of how many times over many decades I’ve been asked to pay homage to a resident expert on CCTV, whose grasp of the subject may indeed have been slightly better than the bloke who purchased the cameras, but not any where near as comprehensive as I would consider appropriate for a self proclaimed oracle.
To make matters worse, there is an increasing belief that academics are often the leading lights when it comes to providing wisdom and guidance on an emerging technical subject, but without them necessarily ever having provided any real world knowledge, other than that which is often brilliantly articulated in an economically populated lecture theatre, on a rainy day in November.
Whilst there are effectively twelve key ‘Stakeholder’ groups that are either directly or indirectly reliant on CCTV (or video surveillance as we are now increasingly being told to refer to it), the resolution of many issues affecting the field of video forensics will probably only start to be properly addressed, when there is a much better understanding of CCTV Product User issues ( CT, Police & CJS ), by the wider and generally more vociferous population of CCTV Enablers, Providers and Beneficiaries.
Methinks it’s going to be a long haul!