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How to buy video analysis systems

By Tim Dees

The good news is that there are more surveillance cameras than ever before. The bad news is that most of the video from them is crappy. With a good video analysis/forensic system and a reasonably skilled operator, much of that crappy video becomes viable, revealing evidence. Here’s a few things to think about when purchasing video analysis systems:

Image Quality
Video that looks too dark to be useful can be transformed when the conditions are right. Vehicles, license plate numbers, and other static details appear where there were none visible before. Other techniques can fix camera shake and lens flare, clarify details that look too distant and blurred to identify, and remove noise created by poor wiring or worn-out tapes.

Most forensic video systems are sold as a package of hardware and software. There are good reasons for this. Video analysis taxes a computer’s processing power to its limits. It’s best to have the fastest gear available at the time of purchase, and for that gear to be optimized for best performance with the software. Don’t expect to buy the software separately (if you can even get it that way) and install it on one of your computers already in service. Office-grade computers are not up to the task.

Forensic video systems should be reserved for that task alone. The packaged systems often have special color-coded keyboards to make it easier for the analyst to access the commands he needs quickly. They often have large monitors or multi-monitor layouts to offer as much display “real estate” as possible. These touches are not frills. If you’re going to do this right, your tech needs those.

Vendor Support
Most vendors of forensic video hardware and software also offer training courses for their users. Send your people to these. Anyone who is reasonably skilled with computer applications can learn the techniques, but it’s best to learn from people experienced with the equipment and software they will use. Another important resource is the Law Enforcement & Emergency Services Video Association (

LEVA offers training, conferences, online member forums and certifications that will keep your people current and increase their credibility. This is also a good place to go with questions about a purchasing decision. The LEVA members know the difference between good gear and junk.

Video Analysis
You can always send your video out to be analyzed, but most services will charge $1000 or more for only a few seconds of video. Create your own forensic video unit, and you’ll find there is more usable video out there than you thought. This is a purchase that can be shared with other agencies, especially if your volume of video evidence isn’t overwhelming.

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at

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