How to Become a Forensic Video Analyst in 2019
If you have ever watched crime scene investigation shows on television, then you’ve probably seen depictions of Forensic Video Analysis.
Though television is often not an accurate portrayal of the work, it is a real and important role in solving crimes today.
With the proliferation of smartphones and security cameras today there are more incidents being captured on video than ever before.
Yet, the increase in video evidence cuts both ways.
Today a major incident can overwhelm law enforcement agencies with the sheer amount of video that needs to be stored, processed, and reviewed.
Beyond the vast amount of video now available, digital video is much more complex than most people realize.
Without proper forensic analysis, the public, law enforcement and the courts should not accept video at its face value.
There are large number factors, from the method video is recorded to the color calibration of your monitor that can have a significant impact on what people see and how they interpret it.
These factors can easily lead to incorrect conclusions about what really happened.
If you are passionate about truth and helping people discover it through video, then forensic video analysis might be the career for you.
To learn more, keep on reading.
What is Forensic Video Analysis?
According to LEVA.org: “Forensic Video Analysis is the scientific examination, comparison and/or evaluation of video in legal matters.”
For a video or audio recording to be used in a legal proceeding it must first be validated to ensure that the evidence is authentic and suitable for court purposes.
A video forensics analyst must also determine which facts or pieces of evidence might be relevant to the case.
Knowledge of evidence handling and technical expertise isn’t enough.
This field also requires a high level of critical thinking.
There are number of jobs titles you will see in the Video Forensics field.
The most common titles are Forensic Video Analyst & Forensic Video Technician.
“The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to the untruth” ~Harold Evans
Why is Video Forensics Important?
Have you ever heard the expression the “The camera cannot lie”?
Well, the reality is the way video and images are captured can have a dramatic impact on how people interpret what they see – and often leading to incorrect conclusions.
This is why video forensic analysts are essential when any videos (or images) are submitted as evidence during a trial.
There are a tremendous number of camera makes and models on the market today, including dedicated digital photography cameras, action cameras (ie. Go-Pro), smartphones, and of course security system cameras.
File formats can vary, as well as settings for recording video, such as frames per second (fps) or video resolution.
These can all factor into how and what video information is stored.
A forensic video analyst must understand all of this to prevent a misinterpretation of what a video appears to show, such as colors or perhaps the speed of events unfolding in the video.
In a criminal case, where a video could be very important to proving someone’s innocence or guilt, these factors can be very important.
Here are some examples:
Perhaps the most famous example of how image can be deceptive is the viral photo #thedress from 2015.
It was unique in that a great number of people were divided on the whether the dress was “white and gold” or “black and blue”.
This is generally not the case, where a camera may affect how the image appears, but most people still agree they see the same colors.
However, is this a useful reminder of carefully assessing and examining an image before we trust it.
One component of video is the frame rate, measured in frames per second (FPS).
Common frame rates include 30 or 60 FPS.
Yet, FPS does not always stay consistent and can vary during a length of video footage.
When the FPS dips, our brains subconsciously fill in the blanks and we are very unlikely to notice.
Fortunately, with 30 FPS or higher, a dropped frame doesn’t make a big difference.
But with low frame rates found in many CCTV recorders that may use only a few FPS, a lost frame can cause us to draw faulty conclusions about what we are observing.
For example, if a video has a FPS of 5, and then the recording dips for a second or two to 1 FPS, our brains will try to fill in the blanks, causing the action to appear to increase in speed.
Learn more about frame rates at https://ipvm.com/reports/frame-rate-surveillance-guide
AI (Artificial Intelligence)
With advances in AI technology and video editing software, videos can now be generated by computers that look and sound like a recording of a real person.
A well-known example of this is the ‘Fake Obama’ videos created using AI Video tool:
Artificial Intelligence is also being used for the review of the vast amounts of video being created.
We’ll explore this exciting topic in more detail in a later article.
Digital video technology is very different from video was stored on film.
When digital video is recorded, techniques are employed to reduce the size of the video file created – this is referred to as compression.
One method to help compress video is the use of reference frames.
For example a video might only take one reference frame for every 30 frames.
This reference frame is actually capturing everything the camera lens sees.
Then the next 29 frames, the software only captures data where it detects a change from the reference frame.
For example, if a person is walking in the top corner of the video, only the portion where change is detected in the follow 29 frames is stored while the rest of image for each frame is actually sourced from the reference frame.
Of course, software is not perfect, and if the camera software does not detect the persons movement, then those frames will give the effect that the person never moved.
These are just a few examples of complexity around video. Video Forensics Analyst are therefore vital in analyzing video and ensuring that individuals are given a fair trial when video evidence is used.
Forensic Video Clarification
Video clarification may be the most common idea people have when they think of video forensics.
In TV shows, videos forensics is often shown as identifying an impossible to see license plate on car or the face of someone off a reflective object.
Video Forensics can do some amazing things – but it’s important to remember some of what is shown on TV is simply “TV Magic” and not reality.
Fortunately, there a number of great software products that can be used to remove unwanted sound or noise while enhancing the desired sound or video footage critical to the trial.
Also, Video Forensics is not simply about video.
Often photos are needed, whether for court or for creating bulletins to be sent out Law Enforcement members or the public.
One example of this is obtain a still image (a single frame) of an unknown suspect captured in surveillance video.
This image (or images) can then be distributed to the police or public to request help in identifying the individual.
It’s important to remember that any type of forensic video analysis needs to be properly documented.
After you’ve verified video evidence and or enhanced elements for greater clarity and you have documented all your work– the most important task still await.
Testifying in court!
Testifying & Preparing Reports
One of the most valuable services a video forensics professional can offer is testifying in court.
Though testifying may not always be necessary, it’s not uncommon for attorneys to question the validity of the video evidence.
You need to be prepared and ready to speak to whatever actions you’ve taken when handling or editing video.
This might include:
- Steps in chain of custody of evidence
- Software used in analyzing video
- Any modifications (enhancements) you made to the video
- Possibly providing “expert” opinion on video evidence
Testifying can sound like a daunting task.
And likely the first few times it will be.
The key is not only to be knowledgeable, but also be able to express that knowledge in terms the judge and jury can understand.
Yet, a lot of cases, whether criminal or civil, will often be settled without you having to take the stand.
However, for your cases to reach that successful conclusion without your testimony, it will often rely on you preparing accurate and readable reports.
Discovering how to present the facts in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand requires a certain level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Having a method of writing reports is important to the success of your evidence being used accurately in court.
How do you prepare to be a Video Forensics Analyst?
Education and Experience
It’s never going to hurt to have post-secondary education.
We aren’t currently aware of any bachelor’s degree dedicated solely to video forensics.
But there are a number of more general forensic program available, some which then offer specific video forensic courses.
When it comes to having specific skills, many public sector employers (such as law enforcement), will provide specialized training required for performing video forensics.
Therefore, the value of a post-secondary education is more to have exposure to critical thinking and writing skills, which will be required and beneficial to truly succeeding in this field.
Successfully obtaining a video forensics position, like most jobs today, is competitive.
Without some sort of post-secondary education, will likely put you at a disadvantage.
As a significant amount of the jobs in this field are with Law Enforcement, perhaps the most important method is to become familiar with Law Enforcement agencies themselves.
The best education for this is “on the job training”.
Volunteering or even applying to other positions in the organization can be important to gain knowledge and experience about working in a Law Enforcement environment.
It’s also an important element of networking, which we discuss later in the article.
Keep in mind if you hope to be employed with a Law Enforcement agency, your integrity and behavior in personal life will also likely be reviewed.
Past academic misconduct (cheating / plagiarism) may prohibit you from getting a job.
In this sense, how you go about obtaining your education is as important as what you get your education in.
If you are looking to pursue education and training related to the field of Video Forensics, here are some options for 2019.
NOTE: A number of these programs are not “Video Forensics” specific, but may assist you giving you a stronger academic background on your resume. Some program do offer specific video forensics courses in the curriculum.
Offers a graduate certificate designed to provide knowledge and skills for the identification, collection, preservation, and examination of various types of digital evidence. This includes topics from digital forensic analysis policy, and procedure, forensic analysis tools and techniques, as well as quality assurance, legal, and ethical considerations. The program does not require the applicant have any experience in the field of digital forensics.
Learn more about: The Graduate Certificate in Digital Forensics
The University of Colorado Denver (National Center for Media Forensics)
Offers perhaps one of the specific and directly related to video forensics programs available. Presented in a hybrid format combining mostly online learning with a small portion of concentrated in-person classes within a two-year cohort curriculum. This format allows for students to work full-time while pursuing the degree.
Learn more about: Master of Science in Recording Arts emphasis in Media Forensics.
NU (National University)
Though they do not a specific video forensics, NU offers a graduate certificate that can be completely relatively quickly online or on campus.
Learn more about: Graduate Certificate in Forensic and Crime Scene Investigations
BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology)
There are several part-time Bachelor of Technology (BTech) and Advanced Certificate program options to choose from as well as a wide range of professional development workshops offered throughout the year. Two options that offer video forensics courses are:
Know of a great program for Video Forensics?
Let us know on the Forums we’ll add it to this article.
There are also a number of non-profit groups and vendors that offer certification and specific training on their products.
LEVA (Law Enforcement & Emergency Services Video Association)
Established in 1989, LEVA is nonprofit corporation committed to provide advanced training and certification in the science of forensic video analysis. LEVA serves as a key resource providing opportunities for professional development through quality training and informational exchange.
LEVA offer two certifications: Certified Forensic Video Analyst (CFVA) & Certified Forensic Technician (CFVT).
Learn more at: https://leva.org/
IAI (International Association of Identification)
According to the IAI the oldest and largest forensic association in the world. The forensic association represents a diverse, knowledgeable and experienced membership that are assembled to educate, share, critique and publish methods, techniques and research in the physical forensic science disciplines.
As a member, you can apply to become a Certified Forensic Video Examiner.
Learn more at: http://theiai.org/forensic_video.php
NATIA (National Technical Investigators Association)
Offers the option to become a Certified Technical Investigator (CTI). A CTI has demonstrated a basic knowledge of audio, video, electronics, tracking, and telephony.
It should be noted that Membership in NATIA is restricted to full-time employees of law enforcement and military agencies who are actively engaged in technical surveillance, communications, and specialized support of the agencies by which they are employed.
Learn more at: https://www.natia.org/certification/
VENDOR CERTIFICATION / TRAINING
Ocean Systems (maker of video forensics software)
Offering a number of courses as short as 4 hours (online) up to 5 days.
- Forensic Video Analysis – FVA 101 (5 Day)
- Fundamentals of Video Evidence Recovery & Processing (3 Day)
- DVR Assessment & Video Recovery (2 Day)
- Image Clarification & Processing w/ClearID – (4hrs, On-line)
Learn more at: https://www.oceansystems.com/training/training_overview.php
Know of a great Video Forensics product?
Let us know on the Forums we’ll add it to this article.
Other Skills & Aptitude
As we mentioned above, it’s not just about having a specific education.
It’s about having a whole range of skills and aptitudes.
Most these are “transferable skills” that you can build and improve while pursing your education and via other employment.
Here a number of areas you will want to develop on your career path to become video forensics professional:
- Public speaking skills to communicate findings to supervisors or in a courtroom
- Taking clear notes and identifying key facts that need to be included
- Detailed observation skills with the ability to pay attention to details for extended periods of time
- Writing concise relevant scientific reports
- Understanding and willingness to that follow scientific guidelines and processes
- Staying unbiased and composed in emotional circumstances
- Having your own personal integrity, along with a passion for finding out the truth
- Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
Forensic scientists work is intended to be used in court, so it’s important for the forensic professional to be accurate, methodical, detailed, and above everything else, unbiased.
On top of this, the ability to write clear, concise, accurate reports, and keep detailed notes are crucial to any video forensics professional’s job.
Though not every case will require a testimony from a video forensic professional, it’s important to always maintain the quality of your reports should you ever be called to testify in a case.
Poorly written reports will often lead to questions regarding the quality of the work, increasing your odds of having to defend your work in the court room.
Networking / Social Media / Personal Behavior
As with so many jobs today, networking is a key component to obtain a video forensics position.
This is why (as mentioned above) volunteering or applying to unrelated position at a law enforcement agency (or any organization) can be beneficial.
People get to know your name and ideally see your strong work ethic and attention to detail.
It’s important to get make positive associations with people in the Video Forensics Field and the organizations that hire such people.
It’s also important you avoid ‘negative’ associations.
Entering this field, it’s important to consider who you spend time with and have as close friends.
Associating with people tied to criminal activity or illegal drug use could impact your ability gain employment in the forensics field.
Remember, your online life matters too.
Employers are likely to review your social media presence.
It’s important that your behavior online is in line with the expectations of a forensic specialist.
Your work in video forensics will likely bring you to one day testify, and it is not unheard of for the defense to conduct a search of your personal online activity to find information that might indicate you are a biased or an unreliable person.
If, for example, your social media account has numerous posts of you being intoxicated, defense might question whether you were fit to work on the days you completed video forensic examinations.
Many agencies will also have in-depth interview process (that may involve a polygraph test) asking detailed question about your life choices and integrity.
Many video forensic professionals work for the federal, state (provincial) and local governments, such as:
- police departments
- crime laboratories
However, competition for this job is high as interest in this job position has increased greatly due to media and television shows such as CSI.
Salary & Job Prospects
As with any job, your salary is highly dependent on your geographic location and your employer.
Salaries in the United States
There is a large range of salaries in the US.
The average Forensic Computer Analyst makes $70,915 / year (or $27.00 an hour).
On the high end you can expect to make up $117,000 / year (approx. $50.00 an hour).
On the lower end salaries can start at $44,000 / year (approx. $17.65 an hour).
(Source: Payscale.com )
Salaries across Canada
Across Canada wages are very competitive. We’ve seen Municipal Law Enforcement offer civilian positions advertised with hourly rates approx. $34.00 – 55.40 per hour (based on 2017 pay scales).
This breaks down to approximately $70,500 – $115,000 / year.
If the world of Video Forensic Analysis interests you, hopefully this article has given you some ideas what to expect and how to prepare.
Start learning on your own, take some courses, get some certificates, and start applying for positions.
It is an exciting and challenging field, but it will require time and effort.
Check out our forums to learn more from people already working in the field and don’t be afraid to ask questions.