Vancouver Police Thought It Would Take 2 Years to Analyze Riot Footage

By Alexis C. Madrigal

Vancouver's police department needs help from American forensic experts because they got a little too much help from citizens.

In the wake of the Stanley Cup Riots that broke out in the city earlier this year, the police asked people to send in their photos and videos of the mayhem (like the embed above). Many, many of them did. In total, 1,600 hours of footage was sent to local officials.

For the Vancouver PD, this deluge of data presented a terrible problem. In a recent press conference, Chief Constable Jim Chu admitted that it would take "two years" for his 50-person investigative team to process all that video. Two years (!) to analyze an incident that lasted just a few hours! Think about that. This is the surveillance society police problem: too much data, not too little.

So, Chu's team is looking outside Canada for some help. The Law Enforcement and Video Services Association maintains a video forensics training facility at the University of Indianapolis, which its creators had always imagined might be used in times of a national emergency to do large-scale footage analysis. The Vancouver riot footage will be the first time the Digital Multimedia Evidence Processing Lab is put into emergency operation.

Chu says that the DMEPL will be able to process the 1,600 hours of footage in three weeks rather years. So what is this magical lab? It's actually just 20 workstations running a system called dTective from Ocean Systems, which works in combination with Avid Technology Media Composer to aid forensic analysis. Avid Lanshare connects the stations together to guide the workflow.

This seems like a good solution for the Vancouver police, but I think it should give us pause when it comes to the task faced by law enforcement in the big data age. That a relatively small 20-workstation lab would be able to reduce the time required to analyze 1,600 hours of footage by 97% is amazing. Vancouver is a major world city with a 1,300-strong police force. Yet it was woefully unprepared for large-scale data analysis. How long before police departments have to start staffing up with video editors? One shudders at the data analysis challenges faced by the London police as they try to piece together what happened during the riots.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/vancouver-police-thought-it-would-take-2-years-to-analyze-riot-footage/244080/