Episode 15: Multi-Media Evidence Management


With so much random video being captured and created, accessing, sharing, and storing a video for access by multiple parties can be difficult, especially in terms of getting the video into a format that is easily used by all parties in a case. How can technology help improve this access for all members of the justice community? In this episode, we’re discussing technology solutions for managing multi-media evidence playback with Vince Hanson, director of sales and marketing for ImageSoft, and Terry Chaudhuri, senior sales engineer at ImageSoft.

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Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks and know how to solve your biggest workflow challenges, and bring great productivity into your workplace every day.

There’s no question about it. When it comes to capturing the moment, video is king. But when it comes to the justice community, video can also present a huge challenge, especially in the context of court evidence. Think about dashcams or bodycams used by law enforcement, and even individuals, or security cameras at both personal residences and businesses, traffic cameras, personal cell phones, social media video. The options seem almost endless for capturing a variety of information that can provide digital evidence, which can be crucial for recreating a visual of what happened at a particular date or time. With so much random video being captured and created, accessing, sharing and storing the video for access by multiple parties can be really difficult, especially in terms of getting the video into a format that’s easily used by all parties in a case. How can technology help improve this access for all members of the justice community?

Today we’re joined by Vince Hanson, Director of Sales and Marketing for ImageSoft, and Terry Chaudhuri, Senior Sales Engineer at ImageSoft, to talk about this topic.

Welcome to the Podcast, Vince and Terry.

Terry Chaudhuri: Hello, good afternoon.
Vince Hanson: Thanks Kate, good afternoon.
Kate: Hey. So our world is highly digital, and surveillance as a technology is really being widely used to track our every move and document our daily lives. So how can this be both a benefit and a challenge when it comes to the courts?

Vince: Yeah, Kate, I think the benefits are really countless when you have access to that crucial evidence that can help recreate what in most cases, and maybe in the past, had been just dialogue of what somebody is describing. But now there’s audio or video that can go along with helping recreate the sequence of events. The benefits can really help all of the parties involved in the court system to have a real clear understanding of exactly what happened.

But as you said, there’s so much of this video that’s coming from all of these different sources. And if you’ve ever taken a video or even some photographs for that measure, on your cell phone, you know that those files are all different across different devices, you know that the file size can be really, really large. And so the courts, and really all of the associated users in the justice system, are being crushed by the simple fact of, “Hey, we have access to all of this content, but how do we actually manage it, and how do we share it, and how do we effectively provide it to each other as a part of a case, when there are all of these technological challenges that we’re faced with?”

So it really is something that we are hearing day in and day out with our customers in the court system, in law enforcement, in prosecutors’ offices, of, “Hey, we have this challenge, could you help us with it?” And I can tell you, in a number of onsite meetings I’ve been escorted down various hallways, a door is opened, and in some cases they’re like, “Hey, welcome to my old office that has now been transformed into our DVD library.” And literally there are shelves, and shelves, and shelves of DVD videos that they really don’t have a solution for. They’re being shipped in from all different jurisdictions all across the county, or across the state, and they just don’t have a good mechanism to manage that information.

Kate: And the first thing that kind of came to my mind, thinking of that visual, was what if somebody put the wrong DVD in the wrong case, you know. I would imagine that that’s one of the challenges of having things in hard copy form versus digital.

Vince: That’s correct. And then of course you start thinking about copies being made of that media, being sent via the mail, potentially being hand-delivered. It becomes a very ineffective process, very manual, very people-intensive, to even transfer that content to someone else.
Terry: Can we just add maybe one example that you were kind of alluding to already, how this kind of technology would help us, where maybe five years ago it wouldn’t even have been a reality.

I was talking to a prosecutor recently and he told me about a case where someone had been hit by a car and had died as a result of that. So the person was essentially up for prosecution, for manslaughter charges. And they actually took drone cameras and flew it above the turn, the sharp turn where that had happened, and recreated driving a car at night, through that at various speeds. And they determined that with the turn of the car there was no way that person would have been visible through the headlight kind of range, and the person was essentially not charged. It was just deemed a horrible accident as opposed to a manslaughter charge. So this is technology that we wouldn’t have had five or ten years ago now, and we can actually use this to do a lot of, you know, to kind of help cases be more accurate than they would have been.

Kate: Yeah, that’s an incredible story. Do you have any other examples where this kind of video evidence might have helped to play a key role in a case?
Vince: Yeah, I actually have a personal example. A number of years ago a business that I was working in, our office location was next door to a small car dealership. And came in Monday morning, and there’s five or six law enforcement vehicles and a lot of police and local sheriff kind of doing an investigation. And it looked like overnight someone had broke into the dealership and managed to steal 12 vehicles. So now it’s not a one car, but multiple vehicles throughout the night out of this location.

In our business, we had some security cameras on the front of our building, and at some point in the morning, law enforcement came over and said, “Hey, we’re really interested in looking at the video from about ten o’clock last night when it was dark, up until about six o’clock this morning, to help see if there’s any additional information that we can gather.”

And so we pulled up the surveillance video and started looking through the timeline, and sure enough, we actually saw the perpetrators come into our parking lot. They hid behind a dumpster, one individual went over, cut the power, ended up breaking into the building, and then getting access to kind of the safe where all of the car keys are held. And they took one vehicle, drove through our fence, and then they used our parking lot as kind of a getaway area for all of the vehicles. And so we had to burn that DVD from our security video system, but then it helped establish a timeline for law enforcement of what time this actually happened, and then the path of the vehicles. So now they have that initial timeline, they link that back to some of the additional security and traffic cams in the area to help create a path of who those perpetrators were, where they went next with those vehicles, and actually could create a path back to where they eventually ended up taking those vehicles, either for a joyride or going to a chop shop, or whatever it was.

Got to see part of that process firsthand, where the video was there initially to help establish them going down and actually figuring out who the perpetrators were, and seeing justice start for the crime of stealing these 12 vehicles, right next to our building.

Kate: That’s interesting.

So we’ve talked about a couple of different areas, so who are you finding are the parties that are most affected by some of these challenges in accessing and using multimedia content? You mentioned prosecutors, you mentioned different members of the court. So who else could be affected by this and could either gain a benefit from the multimedia, or perhaps is challenged by all the different formats?

Vince: It’s definitely all of the members of law enforcement. You’ve got private businesses that have those security and surveillance video cameras on their properties, defendants in a case, victims of a case. And then of course inside of the courts you’ve got prosecutors, attorneys, defense council, public defenders. There’s just a large number of stakeholders that need to get access to this content, be able to review the video and audio as a part of a case. And imagine all of the different people that are supporting the court process inside of a jurisdiction, that have to touch and review that content. Again, it becomes a real big challenge of finding an effective way for all of those different individuals to be able to access that content in a very simple and easy way and associate it with that case.
Kate: And since multimedia content can have a number of different formats, simple things like even the playback of that content becomes a challenge, because… and we talked about this a little earlier… but there’s no global standard for how the video is formatted. It may be different even within the same device. So what kind of technology is available to make this a little bit easier for the courts?
Terry: So there’s a lot of different areas that come into play here. Obviously there’s, on the receiving side, what type of technology is there to even upload the content. Then you have some type of a storage tool. And a lot of people are leaning towards the Cloud, is the big thing now. So storing everything in the Cloud so that individual courts don’t have to worry about the storage concerns and necessarily the file size. So having some type of Cloud storage, as well as a streaming component. And these videos could be quite large in size. Obviously you can’t download the video and have everybody standing around waiting for that to render on the screen. You want it to start immediately. Think of YouTube and some of these other successful streaming kind of services out there. The videos start almost immediately. So you need that as well, to have everything working quickly.

And then as you mentioned, the different file formats. Obviously there are tools out there to normalize that content. So you can take these proprietary files that necessarily won’t play unless you have a special player, and actually convert those into a standard WMV or MP4, these kind of formats that we’re familiar with. And then you could play it on your Windows Media Player or any other standard player. So this is going to be crucial to get that content normalized, formatted into a standardized format, while still retaining all of the frames and the quality of that image, and being able to send that over to a courtroom. And then they can just play it on any computer there, without having to worry about installing some special player or rolling into DVD player, or breaking the file into smaller slices.

So there’s tools out there to accomplish all of those things, as well as video redaction and things like that. We talk about that. If video does need to be made public, there are going to be some innocent people in those clips that don’t want to be seen, so we need to be able to blur out the faces and do some of those types of things as well. So tools exist for those types of features also.

Kate: Yeah, that’s really helpful. So access to this type of evidence by a lot of different parties, you mentioned even the public in some points, that seems pretty important to the justice system. So I can imagine this is probably just one more reason why having a paperless court is becoming more and more necessary.

So how would this element fit into a court’s overall strategy for transitioning from paper-based to paperless? Where do you think they would place this factor in terms of the importance level in making the decision to go paperless?

Vince: I think this plays right at the top of the spectrum, because of the sheer number of videos that are being collected as a part of a case. And Terry and I were involved with another prosecutor’s office, and some of the use cases that they started talking about were related to gang units. And they started describing collecting cellphones from five, 10, 15 different gang members at a time, and now collecting all of the associated text messages and photographs and videos from that individual’s cell phone and being able to manage that, as a part of a case. So this goes hand in hand with the traditional case documents. Now this really crucial evidence which is really important to the case, goes hand in hand with what has traditionally been done. And it’s not a question of is there, it’s how much of it is going to be a part of the case. So it’s absolutely important for them.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely.
Terry: And it’s just part of the paradigm shift, the technology, a lot of this wasn’t there. If you think back, cell phones really exploded quickly, but now everyone has a video camera on their phone pretty much. And if you think about the other things we talked about, body cameras, it’s becoming mandatory now for police agencies to have those. That’s part of their day. They check out a certain camera, take that with them on their routes, and then they dock it back in, and all of that’s registered to them.

So these are things that are new to us, that we haven’t even accounted for. So some people talking about a paperless kind of process or moving to that type of environment. Some of these things again weren’t really part of the main questions and were kind of an afterthought, but now it’s becoming the main crucial pieces in cases. Video evidence is used more than a lot of other evidence now to actually represent evidence and to make certain points in cases. So it’s becoming more and more… And if you think about even your Alexa and your Google Home, those are recording devices that are recording all that different type of information. And that’s something that people never even thought about before. But even those recordings are being used in court cases today.

Kate: Interesting.

So how can the courts get started on this process to get this incorporated?

Vince: Typically I would say you really need to get the stakeholders, some of these individuals and groups that we’re talking about, together, and start documenting the process. What happens today, where is the content created, who needs access to it? Really start taking an inventory of the people that are involved, and the processes that exist today, and how they’re managing it. We’ve seen in some of our existing court customers, a specific computer that is set up where they go and help facilitate managing some of this case evidence with USB drives and DVDs and external hard drives that are now getting set up, and this endless structure of Windows subfolders and directories, which just becomes a real burden for them to manage internally, to try to transfer and manage all of that data, and the proprietary players that are required, even to view some of this content.

So really, taking an inventory of what the current process is and what those challenges are, is really the first step to figuring out, “Okay, this is what we’re doing today. Now we’re going to bring in someone that has some expertise in this area, and they can help describe the areas of challenge that we’re having, and how we can break those down and make them a little bit more efficient, and help manage the evidence and records in a more streamlined fashion.”

Terry: And managing all of the content. We think about an electronic case file is typically documents and things that were submitted like through almost a physical or a paper-based type environment. So all this digital evidence now is part of that case file. So they have a system that I can go into one location and access everything that I need to, whether it’s court documents, or video or audio recordings, all in the same location. So those are things they want to think about.

It gets very unorganized when I have to go to five different locations to find everything I need, and that makes it tougher to get true justice on a case when things are just hard to find. So having everything in one location is an important piece. So those are things you need to think about when you’re moving to a paperless world. You have to account for things that maybe were not physical or tangible before, but those are definitely important factors in the case.

Kate: That’s absolutely true. This is really such a unique topic and one that it wasn’t, as you mentioned Terry, it wasn’t even really on our radar up until a couple of years ago. But it’s really only going to continue to grow in importance as our world becomes more and more video-centric.

So thank you both so much for sharing your insights on this today.

Terry: Thanks for having us.
Vince: Thanks Kate, appreciate it.
Kate: You’re welcome.

Well, thank you everyone for joining us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This Podcast is sponsored by ImageSoft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about at imagesoftinc.com. That’s imagesoftinc.com. Join us next time where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, supercharge efficiency, and accomplish your organization’s goals.

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