Si: Friends and enemies, welcome to the Forensic Focus Podcast. Today we have with us Emi Polito, who’s coming to us from our good friends over at Amped, I’m a huge fan of amps and you’ve heard me wax lyrical about their fantastic products before and we’ve had the joy a few guests, Martino, the CEO, has been on and we’ve interviewed him recently. And of course, we will link to all our previous content in the show notes. But today we’re going to be talking about Amped certification. Amped have recently brought an AFCE (so you can get some more letters after your name) and we’re going to be having a chat about that today. But first of all, before we get cracking on that, Emi, do you want to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and how you ended up with Amped and all good things like that?
Emi: Yeah, sure. Thank you very much, Si. Thanks Desi. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here talking to you guys. Okay, so my story started back in the days where I was into music. I was living in a different country and I wanted to develop my sound engineering skills. So I came to the UK about 26 years ago with a lot of hope and not a lot of money and did just that.
I did a couple of years of bachelor technology in multimedia systems engineering, which then opened the door for me to broadcast and it was all very, very nice and very trendy until the financial crisis of 2008 where I find myself along with a lot of other colleagues looking for work in a very competitive industry. And I then stumbled into this video forensic industry about 2010, working in law enforcement first for a few years, learning my trade. Obviously there was a lot of interchangeable skills with the job I was doing previously.
And then I worked a little bit privately and then I went back to law enforcement, to public sector. And then about a couple of years ago, Martino knocked on my door and I couldn’t resist really joining this company where I am now.
Desi: That’s an awesome background. Doing a bit of a pivot in a time of need, I guess, into video forensics is really, really cool.
Emi: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I found myself moving on from my initial plans, if you like, but every time I did something new (and the intention was always to do it temporarily), I find myself liking my new trade and yeah, I mean I’m very much in love with what I do. It is not the easiest industry in the world and obviously the stuff that we see on video especially is not always very pleasant, but being able to help in any way the industry, the criminal justice system, it’s very rewarding. So yeah.
Desi: Well that’s such an awesome trait to have, to be inquisitive and want to help. It’s a pleasure to have you in our industry, Emi for sure. I think it’s very common amongst the people who are inquisitive and want to help. It’s really great. But we are here to talk about the AFCE certification. So maybe you can give us a high level, first up, what does the acronym stand for, and then (if it even is an acronym, maybe it’s just a new word that you guys may up!), but give us a high level overview of what it is.
Emi: It is an acronym, Desi. It is an acronym. You guys will know that if you worked a decent amount of time in this industry, there are a lot of acronyms around. Yeah, so AFCE stands for Amped Five Certified Examiner, so that’s what the acronym stands for. It’s a new program. So it’s only been around for, I would say, less than a month. And the kind of develops from our training program, which as you probably know we are very passionate about.
I would say we are as passionate about our training as we are about our products, because we are very into training the user not only to learn to use the software, but also to learn the reasons and the justifications for pushing every button on our products and therefore giving the users the theoretical fundamentals, the historical fundamentals into forensic video analysis and processing. And the idea developed from there, in a day and age where a lot of what we do is accredited or it wants to be accredited, especially in the UK.
And we are now at an age where we have to demonstrate competency. We have to demonstrate that we do our job according to specific guidelines and to operating procedures and therefore demonstrated competency is key. Therefore, we have come up with this plan that if the user has underwent training, has used the software (and we’re talking about Amped Five here specifically), if they use the software for work for a lengthy amount of time, then they have the opportunity to take a formal online examination to be able to acquire this title, Amped Five Certified Examiner, which obviously will serve us proving that they are comfortable and confident with the software and that they are competent in using that product.
Desi: So, you said Amped and yourself is really passionate about the training that you give the users, not just for the tool but to be a practitioner. Is this the first foray for Amped into the certification space? And then maybe touch on some of those requirements and frameworks that you’re working towards, especially in the UK.
Emi: Yeah, sure. I mean, as you probably know, we are a fairly small company and we are an independent company and we try programs mainly by what our users feedback to us. And everything we do, it’s an attempt, if you like, to see if it’s what our users need and whether it will be of purpose to them.
So the idea came out with really with a number of users who expressed an interest in acquiring something a little extra rather than, for example, a certificate of attendance to a training course. Something that they can then use to develop their personal plan in a workplace or to ease out the accreditation program.
So we are just starting out and we’re just gathering interest. We have had already a trial plan with a number of selected users, which has gone fairly well and we’ve had a lot of feedback on the difficulty of the exam and things like that.
Desi: Yeah, for sure.
Si: So, the exam itself, how is that being managed at the moment? Is that I turn up at a certified location and sit a test on your equipment, or…how’s that panning out?
Emi: No, no. It’s very online and very flexible, Si. So the exam is on an online basis. So all that you require is a Windows laptop or a Windows system with internet connection and with a licensed version of Amped Five. Alternatively, you can also use two machines, and this is very important because one doesn’t realize, but in law enforcement there’s a lot of restrictions on people’s laptops, on people’s computers and they can’t easily install software and things like that.
So you also have the ability to do the exam on an online system but have Amped Five on an offline system as long as you can transfer files from one machine to another, because the exam itself is made of two main sections, if you like. So, one is a series of multiple choice questions where topics such as image theory, compression theory, limitations of footage, technical difficulties and challenges with the surveillance footage and things like that are put forward to the delegates, to the candidates. All stuff that of course we cover during our training, and is all stuff that is relevant then to how you use Amped Five, of course.
So that’s one section and then the next section moves on to some practical appliances, so some practical samples, some practical exercise where the user (or the student) has to clarify a license plate or restore fundamental issues with the footage such as, I don’t know, blurriness or lens distortion or things like that, and then reveal a license plate number or answer a specific question from a video. So, that part is all practical, of course. And again, it’s all covered in our basic Five training. And everything is online. Once the user has done the exam and is happy with his or her answers and then you press the button and immediately you get notification whether you have passed or failed the exam.
Si: Now you said something interesting, so I’m going to jump in there.
Desi: Yeah, go ahead.
Si: You said something interesting there which was covered in the Amped Five basic training. Obviously Amped Five does a number of different training modules, one of which is the speed estimation stuff (because I thoroughly enjoyed doing it). And so this is certification on the base training, not on the advanced module stuff?
Emi: That’s a very good question, Si. So, the requirements are having…or the main requirements if you like, is having attended an official Amped Five training course within the last three years. That can be the basic, the main Amped Five training course, or any of the four modules that you mentioned.
So, the speed estimation module, the file analysis and DVR conversion module, and we also have the Five updates module and the video evidence presentation modules, which are shorter modules and there are courses that the student will have done perhaps a number of years after the main course if they want to develop a specific area of their workflow. And therefore absolutely any of those courses are valid to apply for the examination for the certification program as long as he has been done in the last three years.
Now, the courses that are not relevant and valid for application for the certification are the Amped Authenticate training course and the Investigation Video Evidence course, which are based on other products that Amped produces that are not relevant to this certification program.
Desi: So with the online aspect of the course, and I see (and Si’s is probably similar and even yourself seeing this), but it comes to the question of: how do you know it’s the student that’s taking the exam? And obviously you’re selecting a select subset at the moment to test it out, but is there any plans in the future or mechanisms that you’re going to employ for proctoring the online exam, which could be, I guess, difficult or is it relying on the fact that you kind of need the license anyway, so that’s going to be pretty limited subset of who has access to the software to pass the exam anyway?
Emi: Yeah, sure. So yeah, I mean the exam is primarily, or is for Amped Five users. So being an Amped Five users require you to have a commercial license to use the software and also to have a valid software maintenance subscription program, which we refer to as SMS, another acronym, there you go, another one in there! It’s funny because the first time I came into the company and I heard all these acronyms, I was like, “here we go, what the hell is going on?”
But yeah, so that basically consists of an annual subscription, which then gives the user things like a full Schmack support, in sense of if a user has got format issues and things like that, or if the user needs casework help, we also provide that because we are forensic analysts as well as technical support people. And it is renewed on an annual basis, and obviously you get like five upgrades with that as well. We thought carefully about the requirements for the certification. We want to be in a position where the user has got all the prerequisite in terms of all the stuff that he or she needs in order to pass the exam because that’s our main purpose.
We want users to pass the exam first and foremost. Commercial venture, it would be a very, very limited portion of Amped income if you like, but the idea there is obviously to supplement our training program, which is important to us, but also to provide the users with the ammo that they need for their work requirements, if you like. In regards to the online exam, so at the moment it’s based on a private enterprise, so we have someone external that provide the examination elements, so things like being able to choose from a pool of different questions.
So, anyone can have, I think from memory there are about 20 theoretical questions and 10 practical questions, something like that. And they are chosen from a pool of random questions. At the moment we are trying to ensure that whatever that pool of random question is balanced, i.e., you’re not going to just have a license plate enhancement questions, you’re going to have a little bit of everything. So, we rely also on our students to provide feedback as well.
Si: I know that in the…what Desi refers to as CISSP and I refer to C-I-S-S-P, and I’m sure a bunch of other people pronounce that acronym differently, but in the creation of that…and when you actually sit the exam, there’s a couple of questions that are included in it that are actually test questions that don’t count to your score, but are actually being assessed for future use. Is that something that you guys are doing at all or is that…this is just…?
Emi: Sure, sure. Now all the questions in the exam go throughout the final scores. It’s just the weight of each question that is calculated different…well actually is only, the distinction is only between the theoretical questions and the practical questions. So, what we didn’t want to do is to have someone being able to answer all the theoretical question correctly and none of the practical questions correctly and still pass the exam. A) because from an online platform, we obviously cannot control things like, “I’m just going to type up this question on Google and see what the answer is”.
So we can’t control that, and we know that. Obviously we are…when the exam launches, we have a series of, I wouldn’t call them legal, but of requirements. And one of those is: this is a close book exam, or should be, a close book exam. Okay. So if you are honest and if you’re an honest person and you are interested in examining yourself and see your ability to pass the exam, then you will not want to go and copy and paste questions on Google and find the answers there. Some of them are more tailored and more individual and you won’t be that easy to do that anyway. Some of them will not.
So to summarize: to pass the exam, you need to be able to also conduct successfully a number of practical exercise as well as a number of theoretical questions. So it’s balanced. That was actually the most challenging thing for us to tailor, because when we started doing the trial, for example, we found that everyone was passing it and we just sat down and thought to ourself, “well either everyone is very good and they follow the training and we are all very good, or perhaps we need to balance it out a little bit”. And that’s exactly what we did.
Si: With regards to…at the moment everybody’s passing, but with regard to failing, how quickly is somebody able to resit? Is there a sort of a cooling off period so they can’t just come in and resit the questions again with them fresh in their mind or go away and do that short-term memory trick?
Emi: That is a very good question, Si, and one obviously we take very seriously. So, as soon as you push your finish exam button on the platform, you will get immediately a notification of your score and whether you passed the exam or not. If you’ve passed it, then you will receive an email and link to your online certificate, which you then can download and keep for your records. If you don’t pass, then in short the answer to your question is: yes.
So, you will have the ability to redo…resit the exam within, I believe it’s a three months period. All the details about this are in our blog articles. There are a lot of blog articles about this, so all the specific details are in there.
But what we also do is provide the students with a list of all the resources they can access to be ready for the next resit, whether that’s online content on our blog articles, or we also have video series as well, which are very impactive on how to use the product. Things like that are all explained. Okay. Because at the bottom line, if you don’t pass the exam straight away, okay, it’s disappointing, but you will have the ability to study, to put your head down and have the requirements that you need to then be able to resit it.
Desi: Sorry, no, you mentioned about the idea of it being a closed book exam for the students and it’s more of an honesty system than anything else. Is the goal to have it ratified or recognized by any body as a legitimate certification? And I’m asking this more from…I’ve got some experience creating content and definitely certifications and when you’re looking at government organizations, there’s particular rules around things like proctoring or selling the course separately from the exam voucher or stuff like that. So is the end goal to have it recognized by anyone or is it just like, “hey, we’re creating a certification that we’re hoping the industry picks up and recognizes”?
Emi: Yeah, sure. That’s a good question, Desi. The goal there is to provide the user with another elements where they can demonstrate competency, which is important. So, it’s a bit tricky because no certification out there will guarantee that you are a competent analyst or examiner or otherwise, there is just nothing you can do about that.
I mean, I myself have sat analyst certification programs that were very strict in regards to examinations, oral examinations, mentoring, core simulations and boarding and things like that, which have obviously helped to build up my confidence and competency in the things that I do. And of course I put that down into my curriculums, into my reports and things like that.
There is nothing that I’m aware of in criminal justice systems, or at least in the UK, in place to say, “okay, you will only be able to come to court if you have an Amped Five Certified Examiner Certificate”, or anything like that. There are things in place such as ISO accreditation who are becoming more and more of a requirements, but at the end of the day it’s always up to the judge to decide whether you are competent enough to sit on the witness stand. So, what the certificate doesn’t do is open you the door to say, “I am an expert, I am that good and I can do this and I can go to court and I can do that”: that it will not do.
But what it will do is to serve to demonstrate that you have taken an online examination, that you have a series questions that challenged you into a specific product that you use for your work to do analysis or processing, goes wherever that you need, which will help of course to demonstrate that you’ve got competency in that area. But like I said, expertise comes from not just training and examinations and things like that, it comes from expertise, i.e. having gone to courts and had a hard time and survived (hopefully), and builds up from there. And this is very important point. We want to emphasize what the certification does and what also it doesn’t do as well, which is unfair.
I mentioned that, what I would say is I would encourage people to put that down in their CVs because it’s an extra thing that you’ve done in your training, in your work that will help obviously demonstrate that you’re competent in doing forensic video analysis and processing.
Si: No, absolutely, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. So, what would the path to accreditation be for a new user coming in?
Emi: The past accreditation as in something that he or she already has, or…?
Si: No, no. So somebody is coming in new to video…to Amped Five. How would you recommend that they proceed to get to the point of being an AFCE?
Emi: Sure. Okay. So the first thing we will always try when we sell a license of Amped Five to include training, to include training seats. The actual software is quite challenging at first, because it works in a way that is slightly different from your common image processers. And the reason for that is because it follows what we call a workflow, i.e. a series of non-destructive processes or filters, which you apply to your image video in a specific order. Because the order is also very important (and this is also what we teach in our training classes). And it might be a little bit daunting for someone who hasn’t experienced this before. So we will always try and include training seats to the licenses that we sell.
Of course we don’t force…we can’t force that, but we highly recommend it. So for someone new using Amped Five, we definitely recommend the basic training, the basic five days training.
Once the training has been done, what we would recommend is go back to your workplace and apply your learning to your real casework. You can take the examination shortly after you’ve taken your basic training, but we’ll always recommend to apply your learning in a real casework environment. For a year, for two years, for however long you feel you require to be comfortable with the software and be confident. And then after that, that will be a good time to take the exam because that will give you an extra ammo there to demonstrate your competency.
Desi: So if someone came in and, I don’t know, let’s say it’s happened to me, you roll into a new job, you kind of just get a whole bunch of cases of work on, and maybe it’s different in law enforcement where they’re more structured with their training, but let’s say someone has all this on the job training and they’ve never taken an Amped Five course and they’ve been there 12 or 18 months just using the software from learning off others, can they take the exam or do they have to do a module before they could sit the certification?
Emi: Yeah, the basic training is a requirement. It is a requirement. We would feel very…although I’m fairly sure that there are people out there which are self-taught and they are perfectly comfortable with the software, the training is still a requirement because we also have a sense of responsibility here. We cannot dish out certificates or encourage people to take an online examination for a complex, challenging product like Amped Five without having had any training. So that’s the reason why we’ve decided that we want that to be a requirement for the examination as well.
Si: And this is an unfair question, and feel free to ask this to be struck from the record at a later date, but…
Emi: I can’t wait!
Si: So, what other certifications are there in the industry that would support or you would recommend as well as the AFCE?
Emi: Okay, so there are avenues out there you can explore. If you join the job in forensic video analysis and processing and you want to discuss with your boss any possible training opportunities there, there are things out there. There’re not many yet, but they are increasing and improving all the time.
So the one that I underwent and is widely known in the industry worldwide is the LEVA certification course. The LEVA being a nonprofit organization, US based, but operating internationally, committed to providing training and certifications to people in our industry, in our job. And that certification is split into two areas, if you like. One is processing, and the other is analysis. When you can stop at the processing certification or the technician certification, if all you’re doing is processing video or downloading video or producing core compilations or enhancing license plate, things that you could do in Amped Five, for example.
And then if you want, you can develop and take the analyst certification, which then will teach you how to express opinions based on factual analysis of footage and provide that opinion in court, all based on examination, practical, theoretical, oral, boarding and court simulations and all things like that. It’s quite tough, but it’s quite good in the sense that when you come out of it, hopefully alive, you’ll be more comfortable and confident in dealing with being challenged in court and things like that. Again, that alone, it will not make you an expert, but it will help in your path, in your progress.
Then depending on other skills or specific areas of your work, there are other modules out there or other companies that provide training courses, so for example, if you are into audio enhancement, there are also things you can do there. And one that I’ve recently found useful, it’s a course on a collision investigation on video.
It’s a course run by a company called FCIR from Mark Crouch, Steven Cash (the gentleman that run it are) and I found that to be very useful because incorporates two areas which in the past used to be isolated: so video analysis and collision investigation, and merged them together because it is now being recognized that it is important to understand technicalities of video and limitations of video between you go and assess things like measurements, whether that’s heights or speed and things like that.
Other than that, there’s plenty of courses that you can take on video editing, on compiling video footage, and there’s a wide choice out there because that’s one area of forensic video that, kind of, interlaces with broadcast, do you know what I mean? So you may use programs like Adobe Premier or Avid Media Composer to produce core compilation, things like that, and there are plenty of options there. So yeah, those are the main ones. Obviously I myself can always offer advice on an independent basis if a user needs or if anyone needs any advice or help with progressing and taking care of their own development.
Desi: And so what about, with the certification, I’m not sure about the major release cycles of Amped and how the product changes over time, but thinking about recertification? So, obviously this is aimed at, “hey, you’ve been using it for a couple of years, here’s a certification to prove to yourself pretty much (as well to others), but to yourself that you’ve reached a certain level of competency”. Is there plans for a recertification where the exam will change over time or is there where, like, “hey, we’re going to look at after this one if it’s successful, let’s do a more advanced one to get people to learn even more skills and build on their current set”?
Emi: Sure. So, at the moment the plan is that the certification lasts for a period of two years for the reasons that you’ve just said there. So Amped Five changes quite rapidly. We tend to release at least four updates a year, then consisting of a major feature, new feature, and some smaller additions and of course bug fixes and things like that.
So, for example, in the latest release of Five, we’ve just released the ability of frame hash, to do frame hashing, which is a massive new feature. In the previous feature we’ve released the validation tool, which allows you to perform some automatic auditing of performance between one version and another of Five, or between Five being used on one machine, then another. Things like that.
So exactly for that reason, we obviously felt that a period of two years is sufficient for your current certification, after which point you’ll need to take another training course. Whether that is a basic (well, not the basic course, obviously you would’ve already done it), but obviously a module or something like that. But that may as well change though.
And in fact, I’m not even sure that’s the case. Okay. So if that’s not the case, forgive me if I’m talking forties, but surely…
Desi: People are going to be so mad they’re going to be coming back to this being like, “Emi said…”
Emi: Yeah, exactly. I have to be careful what I say!
Desi: Oh, it’s going to be rough.
Emi: Yeah, yeah.
But the idea for sure is that when we sit back in a year time, two years’ time and look at the questions, we will be, “okay, so Five now has got all these new features that we want to implement in our exams”, and therefore if it’s not a requirement that you have taken a module, then it’s certainly highly recommended that you do so. So I’m getting away with that questions nicely! So yeah, that’s the plan.
Si: In that regard. Are you looking to certify for Authenticate as well? I mean, I get the other one, maybe not because it’s just for police to view things with…you know what I mean? It’s less of a natural examiner tool, but for Authenticate, is that something you’re looking at doing certification for as well?
Emi: At the moment, we haven’t got any plans to do certification for Authenticate, and the reason being is a user base of Authenticate is much smaller than that or Five, and also the people…that sort of work is not as widely used in courts yet as it probably should be, and it probably will be in the future. So not quite yet, but we’re always guided by what our users want.
As I said before, we are a fairly small company, so if we have a number of users saying “we want to have certification in Authenticate”, then we can certainly sit down and think about implementing that. Now, authentication is much more challenging sort of area of forensic video analysis that you need to undergo…authenticating video and imagery, understanding compression, both spatial and temporal and the traces of that that leaves on a video can be quite complex and challenging.
We do have a training course on Authenticate. We haven’t got any modules for Authenticate yet, but what I can tell you though is that we are investing more into Authenticate and in fact, I can anticipate that the next release of Amped Authenticate will have a dedicated module on video authentication, whereas before we only had mainly imagery, still imagery authentication with some video tools.
We are soon going to have a dedicated video module for Amped Authenticate that will allow you to do video authentication on it. And therefore more training opportunities there and potentially certification in the future. It’s quite funny actually because we were talking about yesterday afternoon and it just came out in the conversation, it wasn’t even planned. So we will see how that develops.
Si: Exciting stuff, coming up. Cool.
Emi: For sure.
Si: So I mean I think we’ve done accreditation to death, to be honest! I don’t think there’s any question…not a stone we’ve left unturned, so I think we’ll just open the floor: is there anything you can tell us that, I mean apart from…I mean you’ve already told us that Amped’s got some things coming up in the pipeline. Is there anything else that Amped’s got coming up that you want to share and you can get out to people to know about?
Emi: The only thing I would say (sorry) is to finish it up nicely really, is that we come across a lot of users who are frustrated and lost with the accreditation process in the United Kingdom. I don’t know about you guys in your areas. Nobody really knows how to tackle that. The guidelines are very vague, not very specific in terms of technicalities. Validation seems to be a big issue for law enforcement organization, validating the software, validating equipment, validating procedures. And what we are doing now with Amped Five, with all our products, is to aid that process as much as we can.
And although it seems unconnected in what we’re talking about, again, is a manner of applying processes or applying things in your workflow, certification, validation, accreditation, all the sort of things that ultimately will improve the quality of your work and will minimize the risk of errors. And therefore, for any users out there who are worried or who don’t have…and I know there are many because I myself was one of them, have any doubts, get in touch with us at Amped because we want to know, because we want to be able to give you the tools to facilitate that process.
It will still be up to users to do that, so we can’t sit down with you and do all the testing and all the test cards and all of that, but we can help with implementing tools in our products that will facilitate that, will make that process a little bit more time efficient.
Desi: Yeah, that’s really good. And it’s a can of worms talking to Si and I about accreditation and different types of courses for sure. It’s something that we’ve spoken about lots in the past and it’s something that I’m pretty sure we’ve got another episode, just the two of us chatting about that in general because something that we’re passionate about and it’s something that is confusing for a lot of people.
Emi: Yeah, sure, sure. And you know what the reason why that is is that every organization does things differently and there isn’t going to be one Bible that is going to solve problems for everyone. Every organization will have to implement their own processes based on their equipment, on their infrastructure and things like that. But we can help, we can help. And we are localized as well. So I myself operate from the UK, but we’ve got people in the US, we’ve got people in Europe, in Asia. We can help, we can assist, we would like to do as well.
Desi: Awesome. Well, Emi, on behalf of Si and I, I just want to thank you for coming on and chatting through this. It’s been great chatting with you and having you on and learning about the process that you guys are building and excited to see where it goes from here, being only a brand new certification coming out, and it sounds really, really exciting. But yeah, thanks mate.
Emi: Yeah, the pleasure has been mine. It’s been great talking to you guys. Yeah, I wish you well and let’s keep in touch and…
Si: Definitely, definitely.
Desi: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, thanks to all our listeners. You’ll be able to get this on YouTube, our Forensic Focus website, where we’ll also have a transcript along with the video, any of your favorite podcast apps, be that Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Music, anywhere else you get your good podcasts from. But thank you for joining us and Si and I will catch you all next time.