Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New or Pending Science on the Horizon

by Andrea Campbell

I had a difficult time choosing what to write for today. I often forget what I've told you, and I don't want anything to be too remedial—people have become pretty savvy with all the forensic information on current cases in the news. So I thought I would make a small departure and tell you about some new science or new ideas that are either in the works or coming down the pike, so-to-speak.

Sharing Faces

First the International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network, also called Nlets (thank you, who could remember the other?) has just decided to coordinate policies for putting together an exchange service to share drivers' license photos. This was listed as a top priority of law enforcement for a long time. A pilot program is underway in North and South Carolina and Virginia. It would also allow them to share electronic images from motor vehicle departments for the sole purpose of identification. It seems like such a no-brainer, wonder what the hang-up is or was getting it going? (Link: See http://www.nlets.org/ for more information)

Face Recognition

Speaking of faces, the images on surveillance videos are really bad most of the time. The businesses either recycle the tapes, or have old (or even nonworking) cameras. A computer program is being developed to improve the image processing technology. The underlying technology is supposed to have face detection algorithms. I'm told that shape and appearance models lock on to the three-dimensional shape of the face in each video frame. This technology allows it to be rotated to a frontal view. That way a frame-to-frame registration of the face is combined and then a higher resolution is constructed. Yes, it sounds like something we've seen in the movies. Another idea, Active 3D Face Capture, is the brainchild of NIJ-sponsored project with the help of GE Global Research and PPR. It would set up video surveillance for large areas like a schoolyard or parking lot (where images get lost in the haze and bad resolution).


Not so much a technology but a database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs, is the first online repository for missing person records and unidentified decedent cases. It will eventually consist of two databases, one with records of no-name decedents and the other with missing persons reports. It was launched in July 2007. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, medical examiners and coroners handle about 4,400 unidentified decedent cases every year and 1,000 of those remain nameless. (Link See: http://www.namus.gov/)

Cell Phone Forensics

Obviously the cell phone has progressed and affords us major capabilities now such as: voicemail, music or MP3 players, camera, video camera, voice recorder, Web browser, email, text messenger, address book, calendar, notepad, games, applications and more. And law enforcement know that any technology that can be used for legitimate uses can also be made to handle illegal aims as well. The potential for cell phones holding evidence cannot be overlooked. What is however overlooked is, the capability of police officers and detectives knowing how to preserve and retrieve all this data correctly. There are hurdles with an infinite number of custom-designed operating systems, different network providers, unfamiliar file systems, proprietary cables, chargers and connectors. For investigators who find this information overwhelming (who doesn't?) state, local and federal agencies are trying to create strategies for handling cell phone technology and disbursing it to investigative agencies. (Link See: http://www.bk.forensics.com/ also look for Cell Phone Forensics: An Overview & Analysis Update, NIST, http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistir/nistir-7387.pdf)

Chemical Signatures

I thought this was a very cool product because I have talked to law enforcement officers who work drug cases! The danger is horrendous. I doubt if any agencies here have one of these: a handheld meth-detection unit. It's called the ID-2 from Decatur Electronics. It allows an officer to pick-up trace elements of methamphetmine or pseudoephedrine without physical contact. Yep, it reads through the baggie. The scanner pulses ultraviolet photoemission spectroscopy to detect the elements of meth chemicals as they react to the light. (Link See: http://www.decaturradar.com/)

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