Interview with Chicago’s WGN Radio About Video Forensic Enhancement

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NCAVF was asked by Mike McConnell at WGN Radio to help the public understand how police authorities are gathering and analyzing the thousands of hours of surveillance video in the search to solve the Boston bombing.

Click here to listen to the interview, and below is the transcript:


MIKE MCCONNELL: …Talking the course over the last half hour about closed circuit television and it’s, it’s abilities, and in some cases it’s infringements, but I’m, just more amazed by the uh, the forensic..the…the amount of work it would take, I would think, they said that somewhere in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of hours of videotape were supplied to law enforcement in Boston and how you go through that sort of a thing, so fortunately, able to find a gentleman from the National Center for Audio and Video Forensics, he’s David Notowitz. Mr. Notowitz, thanks for taking the time, welcome. How are ya?

DAVID NOTOWITZ: Thank you, thank you. Um, it’s a pleasure to be here.

MM: Do you know if I was close at all, have you heard anything about how much video, for the most part I guess was turned in? I heard in the neighborhood of over twenty-thousand hours.

DN: Crazy, crazy. Yeah I haven’t heard the details of that but that’s, you know, it’s obviously a lot of time involved.

MM: What do you spend most of your time doing?

DN: Um, I get a lot of surveillance footage in my office that we have to all, you know, going through as well, but um, it’s from attorney’s usually. It’s from surveillance taken from crime scenes, uh, and our job is to help figure out what happened, as clearly as we can, to enhance, to zoom in on the footage, to try to analyze it and enhance it for use in court.

MM: Do you have any cases where you just have an event that brings in just multiple samples of video of the same event and, you have to sort of weed through them?

DN: Yes, um, usually, what happens is, we have surveillance, and then sometimes there’s multiple cameras, that took surveillance of that same event. Today there’s just so much surveillance out there that can capture events, it’s pretty fascinating that you can get even more than one of a particular event: a car crash, or, you know, a police incident. What happens is, there’s people on the side of the street who have their cell phones, they’re also excited because they see the police and they start shooting video of it. So that is where we get video as well. And then also the police cars have video cameras in the cars themselves, and so sometimes, when police are involved anyway, there’s…

MM: Tell you what, let me interrupt you mid-sentence if, if I can, we have a lot going on at the same time, and newswise, Bob Kelso with a quick point and we’ll be right back. Bob?

BOB KELSO: Yeah we’re getting all these conflicting ah, reports about the, an arrest or not an arrest in Boston. This is from the Boston Police Department’s twitter feed: “Despite reports to the contrary, there has not been an arrest in the marathon attacks,” so, Boston Police Department saying that right now, and of course, ah, briefing has been scheduled by the FBI today, five o’clock eastern time, four o’clock Chicago time. They’ve been doing those briefings, um, everyday since the incident happened, so, we do…

MM: We’ll be carrying the one at four, I guess the issue, and we’ll get to CNN in a little bit here, they’re suggesting that they have video of the guy in custody..

BK: Well now you look over at CNN though and it says, “…conflicting reports,” so…thanks, CNN…

MM: Last I heard they were standing by their original assertion. We’ll figure it out eventually, back to my guest here, David Notowitz. You made the point, yeah, people see police action and they have their cameras on their phones and they take them out and, you have a lot of video of similar events…

DN: Right, so you have all these different video sources, and audio too, ah audio, um police wear audio as well, so all this material can be synced together on a long time line and you have multiple videos, and you try to match them up with the proper time so that, on the screen, you can watch these multiple videos at the same time with the audio, synced together, and sometimes, you see one angle, another angle, it starts to make sense more and you start to understand what was happening better. “Oh wait a minute, this man was going in this direction, and there he is, you know, leaning over, this direction,” it helps clarify things for you.

MM: I guess my…

DN: In this case, they’re trying to figure out with the bombing you know, who put the…bomb down, who ran away, what direction did he go, you want to follow him.

MM: Right, that’s what I’m thinking. If you trace him backwards, at some point, you might see him coming out of the subway an hour earlier, or getting out of a cab somewhere forty-five minutes earlier, you can get, if you have enough cameras, you can trace, you know, a good chunk of his day in the city, correct?

DN: Correct, and you should be able to do that actually, it’s just a matter of, the problem of the massive amounts of data as you said, massive amounts. It’s probably in there somewhere, you know, and the trick is to find it.

MM: So my question was this, you tell me if this is technically possible because if not, somebody should invent it…lets say you have a suspect on video, just a suspect. Is it possible to anyway mark him though some sort of facial or body, bodily recognition system, to where other cameras would automatically look for that individual. Can that be done?

DN: They’re trying, ok, that’s what I can tell you right now. They’re trying, it’s a hard process because the resolution on these cameras is, you know, when you get a suspect walking away and, it’s a wide-angle view and, it’s a very small amount of information there, so, often, still, not often, always still, the brain is better. The brain is always better, but, there are some ways to give us help, and the best thing they can do, so far which does work, is on the cameras video, you can tell the system, any time someone walks by here, make a note of it for us; let us look at it. Any time, someone maybe of this height walks by, they can kinda limit it, you see, like for example, placing the bomb down, they could say, there’s no object there now, but when there is an object, tell me…

MM: Ok…

DN: So those kind of things you say, it’s like, there’s something there, or there isn’t something there. Those kinds of things are much accurate. The clothing color, those kind of things, still very inaccurate and, I haven’t seen a system at least that does it well yet, but um, so, the issue is, all these man-hours, that have to be done, looking through footage, step by step, that’s gonna be important.

MM: Of course, you have a ground-zero, and you have a time to start looking backwards. I’m thinking the…I’m sure, at the site of the second bombing, and I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the news, but apparently closed-circuit television, from the store Lord & Taylor, across the street from the second blast, they had a second-story camera focused across the street, which is where the second bomb went off, and that alone should be gold. I mean, you know what time the bomb went off, OK, “how long until that bag was there? Who carried the bag?” Seems like between that, and some news footage, they’ve narrowed it down to one individual, they believe, you know, a suspect at this time.

DN: That’s exactly, what, you know, you, of course you focus on the bomb sites and you, you say, “ok the bomb was placed here then,” and you back up from that. You also can, um, track them down the street like you said and track them as much as you can and somewhere, you’ll probably have a really good shot of the, of some person walking by on the street, right in front of someones business, and uh, maybe multiple angles. You can even bind these into one image, you know, you can actually take multiple images and use the best of each image to create one image.

MM: Reminds me of one of my all-time bright ideas, tell me if this wasn’t an all-time bright idea. Back during the Iraq War when we had daily car bombings going off in Baghdad, I’ll say this was ‘05, ‘06 into there, said why don’t we put a drone up that constantly streams video, if it takes a couple of em, it takes a couple of em, to cover Baghdad, but there we see the bomb go off right? Now lets roll backwards: There’s the car before the bomb, there’s the car being parked, there’s the car coming down the street. You could in fact follow that car all the way back to the bomb-making facility. And, I…I wouldn’t be surprised if we did something like that because, they probably got it from me of course, but eventually the car-bombings did stop. I mentioned it to somehow sometime later and he suggested we did do something along those lines, so you can go back in time, if you have enough video.

DN: Yes…

MM: Back to, the…

DN: The hard thing is…the hard thing is, of course in Boston, it’s not networked together. You got all these mom-and-pop-stores with their video surveillance cameras so, you have, some that are networked to the police, but most are all individual cameras, which is what is great about America, we’re free and we’re hopefully keeping private, our videos, but, um, all those different systems need to be visited by people, by police, and downloaded to another computer and brought back to be forensically analyzed.

MM: So would you guess by the end of this, when we get a suspect, we’ll know pretty much where he was for “x” amount of time before he ever planted the bomb? We probably will.

DN: Yeah there’s so much video out there now that, I think you’re right, you know I hope so, I always find this stuff of course interesting because it’s part of my business, and uh, I follow it very carefully, and yes, I noticed that they had that surveillance video, but a lot of businesses don’t shoot video outside, you know, on the street. They’re more focused on what’s going on inside.

MM: Right.

DN: So it’s, you know, I would think that they should suggest to everyone that they have one camera that’s faced on the street, so that we can all help each other.

MM: Give em tax write-off, know what I’m saying?

DN: Yeah. Yeah exactly!

MM: A good-citizen tax write-off. Alright well listen, David Notowitz, I appreciate your time. I predict in the future that your business is going to be doing just fine, as we have more and more video over time, you’ll have more and more work.

DN: I love to help.

MM: Ok, David thanks so much.

DN: Thank you so much.

MM: You bet, take care.


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