Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Not just a camera

As I mentioned in the comments thread that took off after Christmas, we're in the process of making the conversion from film to digital photography. We have been creeping that way for several years, but 2009 should close the door on Polaroid and 35 mm film. This week, we'll begin issuing a large shipment of Canon digital cameras, so that each officer will have a decent point-and-shoot to supplement the more capable digital SLRs issued to each patrol team and to the criminal investigations team.

Moving to digital, though, is not just a matter of buying a pallet load of cameras. The more significant issue is dealing with the resulting files as digital evidence--which is exactly what those images are. Part of the conversion is building the capacity to handle digital evidence. This will require software, hardware, procedures, and training. It's a piece of cake to use a digital point-and-shoot, but what about after the shot? The present method of burning digital images to CD and tagging those discs into our Property & Evidence Unit is hardly an improvement.

We need to have a process for intake that loads those images onto a secure server and tags them with database fields for future retrieval and connection to our other records pertaining to the case. There must be a process for maintaining the chain-of-custody and security of those files--including backup and archival storage. It's important to create a secure log file that tracks the who, when, where, and what associated with the creation, input, viewing, printing, or manipulation of digital evidence; and of course the original digital file must be maintained intact and unaltered. Finally, we want to serve digital evidence--so that it can be viewed via our intranet, and so that workflow processes can be created that allow technicians to work with this evidence when needed without sneaker-netting CDs around the department.

Some officers will recall the days before digital mug shots, when getting a photo meant a trip to the Records Unit, searching through file draws, manually creating photo spreads for lineups, and so forth. With digital mug shots (especially the 2005 update to the software), the availability and access was dramatically improved to great benefit. It's pretty much the same thing with digital cameras: the type of camera is meaningless unless you are leveraging the digital evidence in a way that improves on the workflow and helps get the job done more efficiently and effectively.

Digital evidence is not just photographic images, either. A byte's a byte, and digital evidence files might be documents, audio files, video files, and so forth. This is going to be one of the more significant changes of the year, so standby for not just a new camera, but for changes in training, procedures, and a new way of thinking about electronic evidence as the year unfolds.


Anonymous said...

Chief, Not to kick a dead horse....How about another investment for the great city of Lincoln. I think you would look good walking around with a ticket book! Think of the fun you could have.

Tom Casady said...


Why is it that when someone says, "Not to kick a dead horse," they proceed to do exactly that. I'm adding this phrase to my collection:

"I'll be brief."
"Just one more thing:"
"I won't bore you with statistics."
"To make a long story short,"
"not to kick a dead horse,"

Anonymous said...

Dead horses are usually the purview of LSO and the county health dept. Oh, and a rendering/dog food plant, the smell of which wake up a tired bicyclist as they approach Crete on Hwy. 33. On really hot days, when the wind is just right, the odor could just about empty your stomach, but I digress.

I think I started the digital camera thing, figuring it was just the expense of procuring the cameras that was the issue, not knowing the rest of it. Is there also a chain of evidence concern with the digital images, in case a case goes to trial (which most don't) with a well-funded defense? In any case, the whole nuts-and-bolts background of what a law enforcement agency does, not just the stuff ripe for dramatic adaptation, is quite interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

Oops I missed the part about the log and making sure the images where preserved unedited, maybe I was still smelling that dog food plant from memory, and it had me a little woozy.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not trying to be rude..."
"I don't mean to brag.."
"Not to spread gossip.."

Anonymous said...

Chief, it has not been that long ago at 233 S.10th when we had to go pull polaroids and mugs from records to compile the lineups. Our new system really makes you appreciate technology. I remember the cardboard lineup sheets we had to use and insert/tape the photos in. Were all of those pictures disposed of when we made the move?

Tom Casady said...


Good question, I don't really know. Anybody else?

Anonymous said...

They were distroyed about 2-3yrs ago.

Phillyun said...

RE:dead horse - You'll notice there is always some sort of positive affirmation and then the digression. (YES ... but) The first part is to shut you up. The second part is to reverse and dismiss the initial person's point of view.

RE: burning digital images to CD - Not to mention the fact that CDs degrade after time. There's extra bits in there that help the drive (reader) Error-correct, but (yes...but) The error-correction doesn't always work. CRC Error anyone?

RE:secure log - not only a secure log of 5-Ws ... you want to have a secure log of "versions" or "enhancements"! Augmenting TrueCrypt could help with part of that security/storage solution. I'd love to be the fly on the wall in the scalability discussions of any technical solutions though - especially if you're able to talk openly without concern of a budget (before pairing it back down to reality).

RE:sneaker-net - Great joke, that was funny. "Hey trained monkey - go get 304-383 and take it to Alice" (Cabinet/ID:304 Disk:383)

Detective said...

We have a civilian employee working in our digital video and forensics unit (at a medium sized police department in Washington State) who has developed an amazing piece of software that handles the entire workflow for digital evidence (not just images). It is called "Quick Downloader."

Take a look here:

It manages the security/view issues as well using a manager tool.

Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about it. My desk line is 425-257-8421.

Best regards and stay safe!

Mac Guy said...

I'm sure you'd need a specialized enterprise solution for secure storage and access, but Apple just came out with an iPhoto update with a couple concepts that could be useful for your needs:

iPhoto 09

iPhoto ’09 introduces Faces — a new feature that allows you to organize your photos based on who’s in them. iPhoto uses face detection to identify faces of people in your photos and face recognition to match faces that look like the same person. That makes it easy for you to add names to your photos. And it helps you find the people you’re looking for — even in the largest photo libraries.

Explore photos by location.

With Places, you can organize and explore your photos by where they were taken.

iPhoto helps you explore your travel photos with a new feature called Places. This feature uses data from GPS-enabled cameras or the camera on iPhone to categorize photos by location and convert GPS location tags to common, user-friendly names.

Tom Casady said...

Detective and 4:31-

Thanks for the help. I should have mentioned in my original post that we are already in the process of acquiring the hardware, software, training, and procedural support needed for digital evidence. An RFP was written, proposal solicited, specifications developed, and a bid award made. It's a done deal--all we need now is some time!