An Interview With Detective Steve Paxton From the Everett Police Department

This week we interviewed Steve Paxton, a long time and very enthusiastic user who is also quite active in the forensics community. After only having the opportunity to speak with him numerous times online, we finally met in person last year at the LEVA conference. His perspective is quite interesting since he is not only a sworn officer who performs daily investigations, but also a digital forensic examiner.

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

Steve, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role at the Everett Police Department?

I have been a police officer for 24 years. During that time, I have worked as a patrol officer, crime prevention officer, property crimes detective, and more recently, a digital forensics detective. I have also been a crime scene photographer off and on for the past 20 years.

I work within a four-person digital forensics lab. We recover and process surveillance video, examine mobile devices and handle a wide variety of digital evidence. I regularly work with other investigators, prosecutors, and administrators to review search warrants as well as examine and prepare digital multimedia evidence for court presentation. Although my work is usually very technical, presenting it in an easy-to-understand, non-geeky way is critical and extremely rewarding.

What does an average day of yours look like?

Quite a bit of our time is spent recovering and reviewing surveillance video. When a crime occurs, officers and detectives may contact us for technical assistance recovering digital evidence. Since surveillance video is so prevalent, oftentimes this includes canvasing the area (where the incident occurred) and recovering video. When a suspect is arrested, we may also work with investigators to obtain search warrants and examine computer(s) and mobile device(s). During a recent investigation, we recovered video from approximately 30 locations spanning several cities and examined two smartphones. Our unit is typically very busy.

What would you say are the biggest challenges with multimedia digital evidence and investigating crimes?

Our biggest challenge is keeping up with the hundreds of different digital surveillance video systems operating throughout the city. Many systems are password protected and proprietary; which can be difficult to operate. We also routinely encounter video systems installed in unusual locations such as small closets, crawl spaces, and above ceiling tiles. We recently ran into an older DVR system stored in a locked metal box attached to the ceiling. Although we were given permission to access the system, no one had a key to unlock the metal box. Fortunately, we were able to pick the lock and gain access to the DVR system inside. Once we could physically reach the DVR, we discovered the manager did not know the passcode to log into the system. Every video recovery is unique, and some are more challenging than others.

Your organization recently purchased Amped Replay. How has this new software helped you with your caseload?

Amped Replay is an easy-to-use video forensics program designed for investigators with no video forensics training or advanced technical skills. We have Amped Replay installed on a laptop and it is available to investigators who need to do a first level review of critical video. Investigators and officers can use Amped Replay to watch proprietary surveillance video, quickly make annotations, crop, extract still images, and create smaller clips to distribute. Amped Replay allows investigators to work directly with their case video in a forensically sound manner.

What would you like to see changed or improved in the digital forensics field?

Over the last few years, surveillance video systems have become an attractive security option for homeowners and businesses on tight budgets. Many systems record reasonably high-quality video and can be purchased for less than $1000 (USD). This increase in quality and drop in price has created the perfect conditions for homeowners and small businesses to invest in surveillance video systems to supplement their overall security strategy. At the same time, there has also been a steady rise in people using smartphones to record incidents or suspicious circumstances as well as police departments deploying officer worn body-cams. Taken together, whether an officer is investigating a car crash, domestic violence incident, retail theft, assault, suspicious death, or some other type of crime; there’s a good chance that video captured (directly or indirectly) something important.

With this in mind, police departments (of all sizes) should have trained personnel and forensic tools available to properly recover and analyze surveillance video. Without the proper training and tools, police departments risk losing critical video evidence. Fortunately, awareness of how important surveillance video can be to police investigations is steadily growing.

How do you think the world of image and video forensics will change over the next few years?

I think we are beginning to see how artificial intelligence can be used to improve video analytics in real time. For example, intelligent video analytics can be used in airports or sporting events to quickly scan and identify missing children, known terrorists, or specific types of vehicles. More and more we are seeing AI enhanced video being used to monitor access control in sensitive locations and track the flow of people or vehicles in crowded areas sending alerts to security staff in real time. Smart surveillance video can also be used in areas where it is difficult to have security people on site. In the United States, it will be important to find a reasonable balance between the use of AI driven video analytics and personal privacy. Used alongside other crime prevention strategies, surveillance video with intelligent analytics can be an effective tool to improve security in an area.

When did you learn about Amped Software?

We discovered Amped Software about five years ago. Prior to that we used a variety of different programs to analyze and review surveillance video; however, most were not specifically designed for video forensics. Amped FIVE has over 100 filters designed around analyzing, processing, and restoring surveillance video in a non-destructive, forensically sound manner. Amped FIVE video forensic software is so important to our day-to-day operations; we have two licenses! We routinely use Amped FIVE to interrogate and review surveillance video, clarify important elements such as license plates, extract still images, and redact video for public release. Amped FIVE software enables us to work more quickly while documenting our workflow.

When you are not busy looking at digital evidence, what do you like doing in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time with my family, playing piano, and photography. You can see some of my photography at www.PaxtonPortraits.com. Recently I have been helping my 15-year-old son (behind-the-scenes) run a YouTube channel dedicated to Minecraft. I also have fun watching kitschy 50s and 60s sci-fi movies and television shows with my kids (The Day the Earth Stood Still and the original Twilight Zone TV series are a few that come to mind!).

If you want to share your story with us, get in touch! We enjoy learning about our users.