Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Video Forensics -- Just what IS it?

By Edith Maxwell

One of the key tools used to solve the crimes in SPEAKING OF MURDER, my completed (and as-yet unpublished) mystery is video forensics. My protagonist's boyfriend works as a civilian video forensics expert at the local police station. The software he uses is dTective from Ocean Systems, which was developed by Grant Fredericks and is used by police departments around the country to clarify surveillance video and present video evidence in court.

The dTective software just happens to sit on top of Avid Media Composer, for which I wrote technical documentation for 14 years. That's an application for editing film and video used to create many award-winning movies and television shows. Hmm, coincidence? You decide.

I knew I wanted to feature this software in my books. After I was laid off my job at Avid, I finally had time to research it, and to start writing the first in the Speaking of Mystery series featuring Quaker Linguistics professor, Lauren Rousseau. I was fortunate to be able to consult with the Raynham, Massachusetts police department about the dTective program.

Grant Fredericks  generously pointed me to Chief Lou Pacheco of Raynham.  Chief Pacheco developed the Regional Electronic and Computer Crime Task Force (REACCT) and was one of the earliest users of the dTective technology in the country. Now thousands of agencies have followed his lead and use it to help solve the most serious crimes committed in our nation.

Chief Pacheco and his video analyst, Tim, kindly spent a morning explaining the software and how they use it. They gave me a tour of the station and answered my many questions. The chief wanted to know who was going to play him in the movie. I laughed and said I had to write the book first. Kelli Hutchings, the video forensic analyst of the Bristol County District Attorney's office, also spent a half day with me, demonstrating the software and talking about how she uses it.

It was a fascinating look into some of the inner workings of the criminal justice system. I hope I've done justice to their expertise. (Kelli recently reviewed the relevant sections of my manuscript and said I did a good job. Whew!)

Several of the things you can do with this software:

·    Apply a standard to see how tall someone is
·    Lighten a dark image of a license plate
·    Zoom in on a tattoo or other unique physical characteristic
·    Compare a fingerprint left on a counter to one taken after arrest

It's very cool stuff.  Thanks for letting me stop by and share what I know about this technology. Click here to watch a video of just what this software offers.
Edith Maxwell, a software technical writer in the video-editing arena, lives on the Massachusetts north shore. Her short story, "Reduction in Force,” will appear in Thin Ice (Level Best Books) later this fall; she has three other published short stories, as well. A mother, world traveler, PhD in Linguistics, and Guppy, Edith is on the board of Sisters in Crime, New England, and also tends a vegetable garden and four cats. She blogs weekly at "Speaking of Mystery":


JB Lynn said...

I am consistently amazed by technology. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

Sheila Connolly said...

You mean some of the CSI stuff is real? Thanks for sharing the details.

MaxWriter said...

Yes, some of it is real! There was an episode of the Wire that featured this software, but very briefly.

Thanks for reading, JB and Sheila.

Mark Young said...


I wish you well on getting the novel on the shelves. Thanks for the information.

I entered law enforcement in pre-computer days many years ago. When I left a few years ago, I was amazed at how the job changed and the technology that I saw coming coming out. I'm writing a police procedural novel centered around technology. I need to update the manuscript regularly in order to keep in step with the time.

MaxWriter said...

Grant Fredericks writes that he was only one of many who contributed to develop dTective. I didn't know this and certainly didn't mean to slight the others!


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Very cool!Thanks!

MaxWriter said...
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