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FWPD's new video-capture software could help nab more crooks

Saturday, August 24, 2013 - 7:31 am

The Fort Wayne Police Department will soon be able to use advancing technology to help its investigators address one of its most persistent problems: low-quality video or photographs from crime scenes.

Chief Rusty York and Det. John Helmsing on Friday discussed the FWPD’s impending rollout of Omnivore, which is described in promotional materials as “the next generation of digital video field acquisition.”

For robbers, thieves and other ne’er do wells used to relying on murky, blurry and overly dark images to obscure their faces and getaway vehicles, Omnivore might as well be described as “trouble.”

The capture software is installed directly onto a USB drive that investigators will be able to take to crime scenes where video or still images have been taken. Previously, investigators might have had to struggle with video compatibility issues that arise with different manufacturers of equipment, each with the potential for using proprietary software that could, and did, delay investigations until officers were able to resolve the compatibility problems.

With Omnivore, that issue is handled thusly: Not only does the system work with all video formats, the retrieval of the video or still images directly onto the USB drive allows for them to be transferred in uncompressed formats – in other words: more high-quality images, faster.

“Ultimately, it’s going to help us solve crime,” York said. “It’ll help us to solve crime quicker.”

The system, which cost $18,000 for the base system and $500 each for 20 USB kits that will be distributed to FWPD investigators, was purchased through a combination of grants, fundraising, and donations from the community – a collaboration York praised.

“We had a need. We didn’t have the dollars to purchase the system,” York said. “We really appreciate that (community assistance).”

Helmsing explained that the system does not edit images, but clarifies them. An example showed how a series of images of a car were rendered nearly unusable due to the headlights dominating the frame. What Omnivore did: Take the same images and examine individual frames that make up the sequence, and what emerged was a license-plate number that was visible once the headlights were separated from the image.

If all that sounds a bit technical for a potential jury to consider, no worries: Helmsing said Omnivore use would never be the only piece of evidence submitted. Instead, it’s a tool that will allow investigators to proceed more efficiently.

“This won’t be the one and only thing that leads to an arrest,” Helmsing said. “We’ll still be doing all of the investigating, interviewing of witnesses and other police work that we always do.”

The Omnivore system will likely be deployed by the FWPD in the latter half of this week, after more training is delivered to investigators.