Amped has a chat with Detective Michael Chiocca from Chicago Police Department

Reading time: 6 min

Mike is always on the spot in the forensic industry: he’s often present at conferences and round-tables and his enthusiastic attitude during presentations cannot go unnoticed! In this interview, he talks about how Amped FIVE and Amped Replay helped in the development of the Area Technology Center of Chicago PD and provided benefits to investigations at all levels. Between the time of this interview and its publication, Mike retired from his position at Chicago PD and has started a new job still within the video community. I wish him great success for his next project and hope to continue to stay in touch!

Martino Jerian, Amped Software CEO and Founder

detective michael chiocca

Michael, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your background and your current role at Chicago Police Department?

I am currently a Detective who works in the Chief of Detective’s office of the Chicago Police Department. I have been a sworn law enforcement officer for over 30 years. I always had an interest in technology, being fortunate enough to have my first PC, a TRS-80, while I was in grammar school. I immersed myself in computers and in high school, I was in honors computer classes. My gift was always in technology, but I followed my calling into policing. Most of my Law Enforcement career was typical of many big city cops, and I am proud of my accomplishments in that space. It was in January 2012 that my LEO career took a turn towards technology.

After lots of work in the video forensics space and now a Detective “being the guy” involved in many of the Department’s major cases, I knew the CPD needed to do better with digital evidence.

After years and years of “being a voice in the wilderness”, I made a detailed proposal to the Chief of Detectives and was brought down to the office in June 2017 to develop what would later become the Area Technology Centers. The first ATC opened in March of 2019 and now there are five ATC’s with over 110 members. Without getting into a lot of detail, it was an all consuming endeavor. Lots of late nights. Before the ATC’s, the CPD’s procedure to play proprietary video was to find the player on the internet and install it on an old laptop checked out of the recovered property. CPD had no forensic software to perform higher forensic functions like frame averaging or even recording the forensic workflow.  We went from the stone age to the space age quickly.

What made you decide to enter the field of multimedia forensics?

In January 2012 I was called into the commander’s office and asked, based on my known nerd background, to take over a crime video database system the new commander was using in his old district. The people who developed it retired and he saw the value and wanted it to continue. The “VRPP” as it was known as a database system where the practitioner (now me) would recover video surveillance from crime scene DVR’s and then make a “compilation video” – a single video showing the crime event. Since the developers had retired, I had to reverse engineer how it all worked. Once I figured it all out, I began recovering videos and placing them on this system.

These single compilation videos, along with video stills, would be populated on this system and it allowed sorting by victim, crime type, date, and location. These videos were played at roll calls, but more importantly, I installed them all over the station, allowing anyone to view these videos. This showed me exposure was the key. Someone knew these suspects, even the laziest cop would provide the detectives with possible suspect names. Over a 3 year period, the 8th District armed robberies decreased by 40%. I later expanded it Citywide. These years of practical experience, and all of the pitfalls, would prove invaluable.

What would you say are the biggest challenges with video evidence during investigations and when presenting it in court?

As long as you follow the basics of recovering evidence, like chain of custody, authentication of evidence, etc., one of the biggest challenges is the repeatability of derivative evidence if you perform any forensic function. Just extracting video from a DVR that already plays on your PC is no biggie, but once you start applying filters, you must document and show how you got B from A. 

What would you say are the main forensic challenges surrounding image validation? How can they be addressed?

With the increased availability of software programs to manipulate images, there is a concern. The seed is already planted in the public’s mind regarding “deep fakes” or “photoshopped images”. Every defense attorney is crazy if they don’t at least bring this up during their case (as far-fetched as it may be). Chain of custody, documenting the entire forensic process- from extraction, analysis, processing, and inventory, through policy, validated software and the use of the scientific method, all of those combined can help with those concerns.

In your opinion, how important is it that digital forensic techniques and tools are based on the scientific method?

Without the science behind the function, what is the point? It is just parlor tricks.  Another huge advantage in FIVE is the forensic appendix, or report. When you produce one, all of the scientific reference on how the software “did the thing” is there. We all know how to drive cars, but many are not mechanics. We can drive the software (Amped FIVE) but under the hood is for the mechanics (The science).

What are the most important aspects of training and education for forensic image and video analysts?

Hands-on, scenario based training is an absolute must for a forensic practitioner. You cannot watch a PowerPoint or a video online and expect students to attain a high level of competency. Just like any teaching in life, you need to be shown how to do it, then practice.

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

Criminal cases are going to increase to rely on video surveillance. With the current state of affairs regarding policing in the United States, all parties are going to want to see what is depicted in the video.

How did you learn about Amped Software?

Years ago I noticed it on the web. Only after I attended some forensic training did I get exposed to the actual software and see its awesome potential.

Why did you choose Amped software products rather than other solutions?

I think Amped’s biggest advantage over its competitors is its video “engine”. When you load files into the program and apply filters, you immediately can view the result. You don’t have to process the file and wait. If I could only choose one tool for all of my forensic video work, it would be FIVE.

How successful was the adoption of Amped Replay for investigators and front line officers in your organization?

We have started to integrate Amped Replay into our ATC’s and there are many practitioners who prefer Replay to other commercial programs.

In May of 2019, the Chief of Detective’s office was contacted by Gatlinburg, Tennessee PD. They had a case in which someone, possibly from the Chicagoland area had committed a financial identity crime, then used this victim’s information to obtain a credit card. They then used this card to rent a log cabin home in the mountains in Gatlinburg. The “renters” arrived and then proceeded to empty the entire cabin of all of the big screen TVs and all electronics. The offenders and their vehicle were all caught on video. The way they acted they never thought they’d get caught. The Detective from Gatlinburg PD’s original request was just to circulate photos of the suspects and vehicle at Chicago PD. The person who took the call at the Chief’s office just wanted my input as to where to post these “bolos”. 

As an avid National Park visitor (I have been to Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountain National Park many times) I asked the requesting detective to send me the original video surveillance footage to see if there was anything I could process. I then used Amped FIVE, and after examining the various camera angles, I noticed on one camera, a possible frame averaging opportunity. With FIVE, it took only 9 frames to increase the legibility of the license plate enough to get the information to identify the vehicle. The vehicle was registered to one of the suspects. Both suspects, and the vehicle, were apprehended and later convicted in court. There is no way this case would have been solved without FIVE.

I wouldn’t call it a success story, but the use of FIVE to forensically verify video surveillance information and produce a detailed forensic appendix, documenting exactly what was performed, has been invaluable for officers involved in shooting incidents. I have used FIVE more than once for this detailed critical information. Many of these cases have been the subject of national news cases.

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

I love the outdoors. I have been very fortunate in many of the national parks, and other places I have visited. I love hockey, I still play on a couple of teams and watch every game of the Blackhawks

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

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