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Forensic Video Analysis: dTective in the Press

As the search continues for the criminals behind the recent rash of anthrax attacks, experts believe that surveillance cameras may have captured those responsible. In this segment from 20/20, Grant Fredericks, Manager of the Avid Forensic Video Solutions Team, talks about how dTective could be put to use in the investigation.

TOM JARRIEL reporting: (VO) The trail and the search for the anthrax terrorists is going straight through the lens of surveillance cameras. US postal facilities use small cameras extensively and videotape from 46 post offices were gathered immediately after the initial anthrax attack. The letters themselves contained numerous clues, but the key search from the beginning has been for photographs of those responsible for mailing anthrax.

Mr. GRANT FREDERICKS: I have no doubt and I can guarantee you that the people who bought those stamps were caught on video.

JARRIEL: 20/20 has learned that at least one law enforcement agency in the anthrax investigation is now examining faces on a few specific tapes, boiled down from the tens of thousands of video tapes rounded up in the past few weeks. (VO) This same technology was at the forefront in the investigation into the World Trade Center attacks. Surveillance cameras captured terrorist Mohammad Atta and his co-conspirator, Abdul Aziz Alomari, at this cash machine in Portland, Maine. For the next nine hours, both men are pictured on surveillance cameras time and time again. At a Wal-Mart, a gas station and finally airport security. Grant Fredericks is a forensic video specialist.

Mr. FREDERICKS: And many times, investigators will look at a videotape and conclude there's no evidence there. And if they had the right tools, they clearly would be able to gather what they need.

JARRIEL: (VO) When viewable, cops say images from surveillance cameras provide critical evidence and new leads to head off future attacks.

Detective ERIC KUMJIAN (ph): It might tell us something about the people that they were with.

JARRIEL: (VO) Every day we're in public, experts say, we pass at least 12 surveillance cameras. Problem is, many have poor picture quality. Without video enhancement, many are worthless. Fredericks is a master of turning bad surveillance video into hard hitting evidence. His secret weapon: The Avid dTective, a portable video editing system that has cops like these lining up to learn how to use it. But how good is dTective? Take a look at this home video of a shooting in a panicked crowd at a Denver sports complex. From the video can you tell who the gunman is? (OC) What's the difference in the home video versus the video the jury saw?

Mr. FREDERICKS: Well, the original videotape was very shaky, very unstable. The very first thing you want to do is stabilize that video, so now we can clearly see who we are looking at.

JARRIEL: (VO) But more than just giving cops a stable picture, the dTective gives them valuable clues. In this case, it was able to pinpoint the identity of the real shooter. They could see what kind of jewelry he wore. And amazingly, they could even match the tread on one of his running shoes.

Mr. FREDERICKS: As he walks away from the camera, lifts his shoe up, we can see more features on the bottom of the shoe.

JARRIEL: (VO) With the help of a positive ID, the accused gunman was convicted. And that's why Fredericks has come here, the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. His goal? To train investigators from large and small departments across the country how to master this new crime-busting technology.

Mr. FREDERICKS: We were clearing cases that we never thought were clearable in the past.

JARRIEL: (VO) That's because, Fredericks says, cameras are clearly catching criminals in all sorts of illegal acts: breaking into restaurants, holding up convenient stores. Even trying to steal the little cameras watching them.

Mr. FREDERICKS: The kind work that we do is very much like fingerprint analysis.

JARRIEL: (VO) Like prints at a crime scene. In this case, video which shows cops where to dust for valuable fingerprints: beneath the robber's left hand on the teller's counter. (OC) Your techniques can actually find things in a picture that aren't there to the naked eye.

Mr. FREDERICKS: Well, that aren't there to the naked eye, but they're certainly there.

JARRIEL: (VO) For example, there's even new see-in-the-dark technology. This car was at a crime scene. The license plate was important, but you couldn't see it. But with a little video magic, here it is. Which brings us back to using this technology in today's crime crisis, terrorism. A big part of the September 11th conspiracy was hatched in south Florida. The trail of some of the suicide bombers passed through this region's flight schools, bars and apartments. And yes, those cash machines with their cameras. Police are now looking for possible accomplices.

Det. KUMJIAN: I'm just a cop.

JARRIEL: (VO) Miami day detective Eric KUMJIAN spends hours a day looking for video clues.

Det. KUMJIAN: We analyze every single frame to see if there's information that we need.

JARRIEL: (VO) And as terrorism has entered the perplexing new world of germ warfare, similar clues may be tucked away in cameras somewhere. (OC) Would you be surprised if there was an arrest in the anthrax cases based on photo evidence?

Mr. FREDERICKS: No, wouldn't be surprised at all. I would suspect that there will be video evidence in this investigation.