Law enforcement officers are always looking for more tools to give them an edge in investigations. Technological innovations continue to improve officers' ability to collect, search, share, and analyze information imperative to solving cases. And they can do it more quickly and efficiently.
It used to be that automated facial recognition could only compare images showing a well-lit, forward-facing view of a face. Now, this software can search through videos and find people in a crowd of others in varying light and positions.
At the most basic level, facial recognition software takes an image and compares it to images in an existing database. The software creates a "candidate list" of possible matches. From that list the investigator can compare the original image to those possible matches and determine if it is the right person or not.
Algorithms and additional filter tools help investigators narrow down the list before they run an image, and the databases of images to compare against are ever expanding.
In addition to matching still images such as mug shots and passport photos, this technology helps law enforcement find criminals and missing persons in video, and therefore pinpoint their locations at certain times to further investigations.
To enhance its FaceVACS-DBScan LE offering, Cognitec developed a video investigation feature. You can upload video and the software will find the faces in the videos and extract those video snippets and store them. "It can also detect if the same person appears in multiple videos," says a Cognitec spokesperson. "The software will cluster all those different snippets together, and the investigator can see where the person appeared in the videos. The officer can then click on the faces in a video frame and compare them against facial images in a database."
The same system can also recognize if certain other faces tend to appear together with the person being searched across different videos. This might indicate suspects who are working together to perpetrate a crime. An investigator could then start a new search for this second and even third person.
This advanced automation is much faster than the manual process of a person scouring hours of videotape looking for the same person throughout. It's also much less error prone, emphasizes Cognitec's spokesperson. Software programs don't get tired.
But that isn't to say that people are taken out of the process. "Facial matching is a supporting tool, not evidence," the spokesperson says. "Just a tool to help push an investigation forward. It's always a human inspector who looks at the images and makes the decision in the end."
IDentify by Veritone is a facial recognition solution that is based on the concept of linking video evidence to a known offender in the database of an agency and any other agencies participating in the company's program. It includes an automated process whereby every day the known database gets updated via the cloud, and then gets moved into the Veritone application.
IDentify also has tools for managing cases and sharing the output between different agencies or officers—all based in the cloud, says Jon Gacek, head of government, legal and compliance at Veritone. He says the program can even conduct a search using a police sketch.
IDentify is designed to be fast, flexible, and simple to use. But most importantly, it can be shared across agencies. "Your ability to search not only your own info, but the info of others is super powerful," says Gacek. "It's also very efficient."
To meet the growing need of agencies preparing police videos footage for release to the public, many companies provide video redaction software as well. Veritone's Redact program searches videos not for faces, but for heads.
Head detection can identify reflections in windows and backs and sides of heads in the cloud. Then the officer can go through and decide which heads they'd like to redact or leave in the video. Different levels of blur and complete blackout are available to obscure people's heads. The same program can also redact audio and create a transcript through an automated process.
BriefCam is a company that uses artificial intelligence and video synopsis technologies to turn video into "actionable intelligence." With BriefCam, you can filter the search criteria based on specific time ranges; class categories such as People, Two-Wheeled Vehicles, Other Vehicles, and Animals; colors; and faces. A feature called View all Faces allows you to view all the faces that were detected in the video in a dedicated search gallery.
According to the company, law enforcement agencies can use BriefCam to rapidly pinpoint people and vehicles, across multiple cameras, by their attributes such as gender, type, size, color, direction and speed to quickly identify and catch suspects. They can also receive real-time notifications of critical security, safety, and operational events using smart alerts.
Rapid Hit DNA
DNA has long been an important means of tying suspects to a crime scene. New techniques go beyond checking against CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).
Rapid DNA profiling technologies are emerging to help address the challenges of increased DNA evidence and testing backlogs. One system, for example, automates DNA profiling from a simple cheek swab, generating results in about 90 minutes. The "swab in, profile out process" takes less than five minutes of hands-on time and performs all necessary steps of DNA analysis without human intervention. Reagents in disposable cartridges are loaded onto the system with up to seven buccal (cheek) swab samples.
After a sample run is started, samples are processed with no further user interaction. The system extracts DNA and performs short tandem repeat (STR) amplifications, electrophoretic separations, and software analysis to generate full human identification profiles. The findings are then used to search the linked DNA database to find matching hits or compared to swabs taken from suspects. This integration enables law enforcement agencies to reduce the time it takes to generate a DNA profile and make decisions while arrestees are in custody.
Snapshot DNA Phenotyping
But what if you've checked the DNA evidence from a crime against all databases and all known subjects and come up with nothing? What if you have unidentified remains? Or blood from a suspect, but no idea of who to look for?
A technique called Snapshot DNA Phenotyping can analyze an unidentified person's DNA to create a picture of what he or she looks like.
Instead of using standard STR analysis of the available DNA, the lab will run a "SNP" panel. It creates a profile of the single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs or SNiPs) found in the DNA, which can be analyzed to help determine a person's likely eye color, hair color, and ancestry. This is based on the characteristics of people with similar genomes. And it can be used to create an image of what the person belonging to the DNA could have looked like.
It's not definitive, but can point investigators in the right direction, mainly by narrowing the focus of possible matches. For example, analysis could reveal that the DNA comes from a person with most likely blue eyes, maybe green eyes, but definitely not brown eyes. A sketch created using this information could be the break an agency needs to find a suspect or identify a victim and solve a case that went cold years ago.
Forensic genealogy is being used more and more to identify suspects or victims in criminal cases. Law enforcement agencies use open-source databases from companies that allow people to upload their genealogy results in the hopes of finding relatives. They compare the unknown DNA they have to the open-source databases to find closely related DNA, indicating a relative of the unknown person. It can identify any person who has a third cousin or closer within an open-source database.
Police recently used forensic genealogy to arrest a suspect in several brutal rapes and one homicide in Washington, DC, in the 1990s. DNA evidence left at the scene led them to five relatives. They were then able to narrow down the list to a man who lived in the area at the time.
Crime Scene Imaging
Documentation of the crime scene is an essential component of any investigation. Today's high-tech solutions do much more than take important measurements with more precision and efficiency than the old manual tape measure and camera method.
"With 3D Laser Scanning (LIDAR), law enforcement can capture an entire scene in 3D and be able to revisit the scene virtually at any time, days, weeks, months even years later," says a spokesperson for FARO. "Using the data captured with a laser scanner like the FARO Focus, investigators are able to measure items down to a millimeter of accuracy."
FARO also offers validated software tools to analyze that data and turn it into 2D diagrams, 3D reconstructions, animations, and reports to create presentations for court. These include tools for blood pattern analysis and bullet trajectory. The FARO solution also supports VR (Virtual Reality), which allows investigators to view the crime scene in an enhanced way and can be used to create training scenarios in FARO Zone VR.
"The Trimble Forensics SX10 solution is a newer hybrid tool for investigators that captures high-accuracy total station measurements, photographs, and high-accuracy 3D laser scans," says Chad McFadden, business area director, Trimble. He says its serving multiple functions saves time and resources.
Another option is the Trimble X7 3D Scanning System, which can create photorealistic 3D models. The data captured allows analysts to collect precise dimensions, evidence, and features recorded for later analysis. By capturing large amounts of data quickly, McFadden says investigators can create a complete 360-degree image of a scene in minutes.
Different tools work for different circumstances. QuickMap 3D Mapping Packages from Laser Technology Inc. were designed for investigators to quickly survey a scene using a lightweight, portable point-and-shoot device. LTI's TruPoint 300 Incident Mapping Package features laser technology with millimeter-grade accuracy and a software user interface that requires minimal training. It includes the LTI Tru-Point 300 compact total station laser measurement tool, a tablet, tripod, case, and QuickMap 3D for Android software so investigators can map only the evidence they need.
To aid law enforcement in comparing and identifying bullets and cartridge cases to help solve crimes, Ultra Electronics Forensic Technology has developed what it calls an advanced ballistic identification solution. IBIS (Integrated Ballistic Identification System) allows investigators to compare ballistic markings and provides automated identification of likely matching bullets or cartridge cases.
According to the company, the latest generation of IBIS technology includes enhanced 3D imaging, advanced comparison algorithms, and a robust infrastructure, all designed to meet the needs of police and the military.
Firearms examiners or technicians must enter cartridge casing images and related information into IBIS to use the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is managed by the ATF. According to the ATF, these images are correlated against the database. Law enforcement can search against evidence from their jurisdiction, neighboring agencies, and others across the country.
Gunshot Residue Analysis
To determine if a suspect has likely handled a firearm involved in a crime, investigators look to gunshot residue analysis.
RJ Lee Group is a company that conducts tests for gunshot residue (GSR) analysis and gunshot residue identification, in addition to providing forensic experts to testify in court.
As RJ Lee Group expert Tarah Helsel has testified in court, lead, barium, and antimony are fused together and released in a cloud when a firearm is discharged. Therefore, if these elements are found on a subject's hands or clothes, this indicates the person likely fired a gun or was nearby when one was fired. However, these particles can also be produced by some fireworks and brake pads, which is important for investigators to be aware of when considering context.
Melanie Basich is managing editor for POLICE/PoliceMag.com.