What does a Forensic Video Analyst do in Law Enforcement?

Knowledge
2021-12-27

What is your image of a Forensic Video Analyst: a geeky guy probably with thick round glasses, sitting in front of the screen—from dawn till dusk? Not necessarily! Viewing the screen and analyzing video is certainly one important function, but this is not all that a forensic video analyst does.

By definition, a professional video forensics analyst performs the scientific examination and evaluation of video evidence. But what specific functions does the scientific examination of video evidence involve?
Here, we will discuss the functions a Forensic Video Analyst performs to help law enforcement organizations uncover the truth and present the evidence in the court of law in an admissible form.

 

With a wide range of devices recording billions of hours of video daily, video evidence is playing an increasingly important role in investigations, and consequently in the increased demand for Forensic Video Analysts. People interact with different kinds of videos daily, and many believe that they can notice everything there is to notice.

But a digital video analyst in law enforcement sees a video in the proper context of the case and notices things that a casual viewer misses. An untrained person performing forensic video analysis risks missing critical details, misinterpretation of facts, and even compromising the integrity of the video evidence and rendering it invalid in the court of law.

Following are the core functions that a Forensic Video Analyst performs in law enforcement.

Crime Scene Management for Forensic Video Analysts

The way video evidence is handled at the crime scene can determine the availability of the video evidence and the efficiency of the whole video forensics process. Poor handling at the crime scene can affect its integrity and even make video evidence completely inaccessible. Ideally, a Forensic Video Analyst should be present at the crime scene to ensure that the video evidence is recovered, recorded, stored, and labeled in a forensically sound manner.

However, it is not practical for a Forensic Video Analyst to be present at every crime scene. Thus, it is highly recommended that first responders in law enforcement organizations acquire the knowledge and experience to handle video evidence at this initial stage.

Following are some important points to consider when handling video evidence at the crime scene.

  • Recognize and identify all the possible sources of video and digital evidence
  • Preserve the state and integrity of video evidence
  • Store, label, and transport video evidence

Recovering Video Footage

After acquiring devices from the crime scene, the process of recovering actual video footage starts. There are many challenges in recovering video footage from seized devices, but that is not all. A Forensic Video Analyst must not only recover the video evidence but also do it in a forensically sound manner for it to be admissible in the court of law.

Using a forensic video tool like Video Investigation Portable (VIP 2.0) is the easiest method to recover video footage in a forensically sound manner. VIP 2.0 and other professional forensic video tools are aware of the factors that affect the integrity of the evidence, and they support a wide range of devices and formats.

Sometimes, however, such digital forensic tools might not be able to recover the videos. In such cases, the video evidence must be recovered by a professional Forensic Video Analyst in a fully equipped digital forensic lab or a consulting company specializing in forensic video analysis services.


Thoughts for Forensic Video Investigator

    • Most security cams display date and time along the video. Can you be sure that the date and time displayed on the video is the actual date and time of the incident?
    • What if the device’s date and time was, intentionally or unintentionally, set incorrectly?
    • In addition to the date and time on display, there is metadata associated with every video file. Can you tell the date and time by analyzing metadata? How does setting the incorrect date and time for the device affect metadata?
    • Can metadata be altered? If yes, how can you tell that the metadata of a file has been edited?

 

Collaborate with Law Enforcement Organizations

Video forensics analysis does not happen in isolation: it’s teamwork. The Forensic Video Analyst must know the background of the case—even minor details can make a huge difference. Knowing the context enables Forensic Video Analysts to separate a plethora of distracting information from the critical pieces of evidence.

To achieve this goal, Forensic Video Analysts need to work closely with the law enforcement team and learn the background of the case and the critical points the case depends on.


Close collaboration between the investigators and the video forensics analyst creates a bridge between the two, with the result of one helping the other in finding, analyzing, and interpreting the video evidence.


 

Technical Analysis

Technical analysis is the function most commonly shown on television and movie screens: the part where a Forensic Video Analyst watches the actual footage and deduces inferences.

However, the sheer volume of video footage often adds another step to the technical analysis: finding the right parts of the video to analyze.

Traditionally, humans watched hours and hours of video to find a few minutes of relevant footage. However, the video retrieval function in modern video forensics tools helps you find the required video clip from hours of recorded video.

For example, VIP 2.0 offers filters like color, focusing area, movement direction, trap wire, and human and vehicle identification to help you find the areas of interest without spending hours looking at the screen.

Once you find the areas of interest in the video, you need to determine which type of technical analysis is best suited for the case at hand.

Following are some common types of analyses.

  • Speed analysis to determine the speed of moving objects
  • Height analysis to determine the size of the objects
  • Color analysis to correctly identify objects
  • Time analysis to know the exact time of the incident
  • Photographic Video Comparison
  • Facial comparisons to identify humans in the video
  • Vehicle identification to verify the identity of the vehicles

In addition, technical analysis often involves the calibration of different cameras to obtain more details of the incident. An experienced technical video analyst also looks for more clues in the video and metadata, clues that are not apparent to the eyes of an untrained investigator.

You could also check out our previous article to learn deeper about What is Video Forensics for this regard.


We notice little difference when we play videos on different devices. For video forensics analysis, however, it can make all the difference. Always play the video through a video player especially designed for video forensics; you can then compare it with the other players including the propriety player included with the device.


 

Reporting

Preparing clear and comprehensive notes and reports of the findings in judicial proceedings is one of the primary functions of Forensic Video Analysts working with law enforcement organizations. Every major action you take and every relevant fact you find must be documented.

Reporting forensic video analysis requires both report writing skills and familiarity with the standards required by the law. Documenting the details of every step taken during forensic video analysis can be daunting. Fortunately, forensic video reporting in VIP 2.0 can help them log every step taken and generate a report with only a few clicks.

Testifying

Finally, it is the job of a Forensic Video Analyst to testify in the court of law and present the findings of the analysis with its technical strengths, weaknesses, and use technical details to contest why these findings are better than the findings by others.
Testifying in the court of law requires a set of knowledge and skills gained through study and experience. Lack of such skills might result in decreased credibility of the video evidence, potentially jeopardizing an otherwise strong case.


Training law enforcement personnel is expensive, and it is not practical to train the entire force to become Forensic Video Analysts. However, there is one skill that everyone in law enforcement should learn: How to handle digital evidence to NOT Lose its Integrity.


It is important to note that the functions of a Forensic Video Analyst vary greatly from one law enforcement organization to the other. Depending on the available resources, a law enforcement organization might choose to contract a civilian, hire a professional digital forensics firm, or hire a dedicated Forensic Video Analyst.

In any case, it is highly advisable to provide basic training to law enforcement personnel, especially to the first respondents, so that they can handle critical phases of forensic video analysis and get the most out of the video evidence.

Summary

A Forensic Video Analyst analyzes video evidence in a scientific manner and reports the accuracy of the evidence and the inferences deduced from it.Though, the definition is broad enough, the actual scope of the job is broader still.

A Forensic Video Analyst is responsible for keeping the integrity of the video evidence—from the crime scene to the testimony and beyond. With evidence integrity in mind, a Forensic Video Analyst recovers the devices from the crime scene, recovers evidence from the devices, performs analysis, reports the findings, and testifies in the court of law.

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