Handling and storing Digital Media Evidence has plagued Law Enforcement agencies around the world for far too long. Copious amounts of discs, media cards and USB drives containing Police evidence in the form of video and audio recordings have come and gone through our desks, giving us countless headaches with transport, storage, triaging, archiving, etc.
Fortunately, many Police forces around the UK and worldwide now use a variety of digital asset management platforms to handle the evidence and some are so good that they are even capable of editing and redacting the evidence in preparation for court. But do they do so correctly? This is a question which is too often ignored. The way a video is loaded or converted into a player, editor, cloud based system or whatever you choose to use for presenting the evidence, is key to success, especially when the video in question is proprietary CCTV footage. Not such an issue at the initial stages of an investigation, one may think, but crucially more so when the evidence is processed, edited and clarified for the court case at a later stage. Especially when an analysis of the imagery is involved.
Here comes Amped Replay. Developed by Amped Software (the maker of Amped FIVE), this program is specifically designed to assist Police officers and investigators with no prior technical background with the playback, correction, annotation and redaction of digital media evidence for media release and/or court presentation – in a safe and sound forensic environment, which complies with current accreditation standards and mandatory regulatory requirements.
Let’s take a look together at how easy it is to use Amped Replay and what this program can do for your casework.
When you first open the program, you will immediately notice how simple and intuitive the graphical interface is. Everything in Replay is based on a simple and logical workflow based on six sequential tabs at the top of the window, which you can navigate across from left to right. Of course, you can deviate from this sequence whenever you want, but these tabs are ordered this way to assist you with what’s next, whatever stage of your work you are at.
To open a video, you simply drag it from its current Windows Explorer location onto the program. This is the stage where the powerful Amped Conversion Engine (which is also included in Replay’s sister products Amped FIVE and Amped DVRConv) will interpret the video data, decode and, if necessary, convert to a quality preserving and forensically safe format so that you can work with the rawest and best video data (and metadata) available.
The Recent and Import tabs help you navigate through the clips and projects stored on your computer, whether they have been previously worked on or not. No need to save your progress as you work; Replay automatically does this for you. However long you spend working on your video, you can open and close Replay at any time, and no work will ever be lost!
Once your video is loaded, Replay will automatically take you to the Play tab, and you will be presented on the screen with what has been recorded. Remember, when you load proprietary CCTV using the manufacturer’s software or other players, you have no control over how that player is displaying the footage. It could be resized, rotated, even processed – without your knowledge.
Replay will always display the most authentic version of the video data, whether that is being displayed correctly or not. In an age where integrity of evidence is of the utmost importance, it simply is the right thing to do. And no longer to be taken for granted!
In the Play tab you can play back the video, jump to a specific section or examine the evidence frame by frame. In order to quickly create a viewing log, you can add bookmarks and even add a description for each bookmark (1). You can zoom in and out of the video by simply hovering on the relevant area of the picture and by using the scroll wheel on your mouse. You can also top and tail your clip by selecting a range of frames with the Start Range and End Range buttons (2).
If you wish, you can now arbitrarily navigate to the Export tab and click on the Generate Report button to instantly create a detailed and illustrated viewing log. No further need to take screen captures and copy/paste images onto clumsy Excel/Word spreadsheets!
In need of correcting and/or clarifying the video? No problem. This is what the Enhance tab is for. If the video in question is affected by jagged edges, for example (a by-product of analogue to digital conversion), or recorded at the wrong aspect ratio, Replay can correct these defects for you automatically. How? By analyzing the metadata that comes with the file and by making conscious decisions based on this data as well as the pixel values and the most commonly used settings.
If, on the other hand, you wish to have full control over how you correct the video, you can apply manual adjustments. The choice is yours – depending on how comfortable you feel making these corrections. Whatever your decision, you can rest assured that you will always be working in a safe and sound forensic environment, and that every processing applied to the imagery will be accounted for in a courtroom admissible report (including processing done with the software-assisted mode).
If you are familiar with Amped FIVE or image processing in general, you may have heard of the Image Generation Model. The model is based on the principle that, in whichever order issues or faults are introduced in the image generation process (from scene to file generation), these should be corrected in the reverse order. The technical term is amicably known as “reversing the chain”. It can be complex to determine the right order though, especially if you haven’t got a background in forensic video processing and analysis, which is why Replay takes the liberty to reverse the chain for you, in the order most commonly adopted for any given enhancement scenario.
The most common issues which Replay can fix (and do so in the right order) are, amongst others: jagged edges, wrong aspect ratio, lack of light and/or contrast of detail in the scene, soft edges and low resolution. All the filter settings are intuitive and easy to apply or revert. You simply toggle an enhancement filter on and off, select the most appropriate correction from a drop down menu and, when required, move sliders left and right for immediate processing.
How about annotations and redactions? If we procure video material of any meaningful evidential value, chances are that the evidence will go to court, sooner or later. And therefore it may need annotations and/or redactions to facilitate the presentation of key elements of the video in court and/or to protect the identity of any victims or witnesses recorded therein. You may also wish to quickly produce an image or a clip for media dissemination/public appeal during a fast moving investigation and there is simply no time to wait for the in-house video unit.
For this and more, you have the Annotate tab, specifically designed to add annotations most common to forensic video evidence and to remove segments of speech prior to going to court (such as witnesses’ personal details or profanity, for example).
From the Annotate panel, you simply select the required type of annotation from the eight available. You may want to add a rectangle/circle to your imagery, an arrow or textual information, for example. You may also want to add another image side by side or as a picture-in-picture. Or you may want to “pixelate” or blur faces. These are the most common types of annotation you will need in your forensic video toolset and you also have the ability to magnify a specific portion of the image to draw more attention to that area.
For each annotation type, you have a choice of simple settings to customize, such as color of annotation, border type, background etc. and you are also be able to animate and move annotations around in a video, in such situations where, for example, you need to track a moving person or a vehicle with an arrow or a circle.
It is also possible to redact portions of sound that contain sensitive information or are unrelated to the case. This is also achieved with the Annotate tab and the Audio Redaction panel is located right underneath the Annotate panel, for convenience.
You will first notice that when you have a clip with sound, two waveforms are displayed by default. The top bar displays the audio plot for the zoomed portion of the video only. To zoom in and out of that area, you simply hover over the area of interest within this bar and use the scroll wheel on the mouse, as required.
The bottom bar displays the waveform for the whole clip, however long that may be, and the top bar displays, highlighted in blue, the region you have zoomed in. A simple but effective way to orient around a long clip when you are trying to locate specific portions of the plot in need of removal.
Once you have located the portion of sound to remove, you simply hold down the “ALT” button, left click at the beginning of the redaction in the top bar, and drag the selection all the way to the end of the redaction. And that’s it, redaction done. The removed sound will be replaced with a tone (or silence, if preferred) and there will also be a textual slate displayed on the video for the duration of that redaction.
You can repeat this process for as many redactions as you need. They will all be listed in the Audio Redaction panel, with the option to add custom comments for each redaction, change color of text and background etc.
And once you have finished your work, you can click on the Export tab to create the processed video or images we need for our court case or media appeal. Everything done thus far, including bookmarks, top and tailing, enhancements, annotations and redactions can be exported in a high quality format which is also compatible with most open format video players.
If you just need to top and tail your footage but want to retain the format of the original video, select the “Export Original Video as AVI”. This process is quick and forensically robust but may cause compatibility issues at a later stage. Select “Export Original Video as MP4” for a compatible and high quality MP4 replica of the original topped and tailed video OR “Export Processed Video as MP4” to export your enhanced, annotated and/or redacted video.
You also have options to export all your bookmarked images at once and to generate a detailed report in PDF format of all the processing, annotations and redactions you have made in addition to your viewing log.
Amped Replay is fully customizable and easy to integrate within a large Policing IT infrastructure. The program allows for an IT administrator or department lead to remove some features from the software (e.g. hiding some of the Enhancement tools or even some entire tabs); this is as easy as editing some simple text in an easy to read settings file. Amped Replay’s affordability and ease of use make it the obvious choice for law enforcement agencies in need of saving time and money but also in need of a forensically safe product, which complies with current accreditation standards and mandatory regulatory requirements.
For more information on this product and other forensic video processing and analysis applications, please contact Amped Software.