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Certified video analyst can assist police forces on a contract basis

Smaller police departments that are unable to budget for a full-time video analyst may benefit from contracting out major cases, Crystal Beach forensic video analyst Michael Plaxton tells AdvocateDaily.com.

A recent report from the International Data Corporation suggests contracting services from experts may be a much more economically feasible way to access a niche skill set.

Plaxton, principal of New Media Forensics, says it simply comes down to money and manpower.

“A certified in-house analyst will get paid in the same range as a first-class constable,” he says. “As well, a small police force may not be getting enough video evidence to keep that analyst busy on a full-time basis.”

In an effort to address those issues, Plaxton says some forces will assign the duty of seizing or extracting video to the Scenes of Crimes Officer (SOCO).  

“A SOCO will normally get handed this task if there is no technician or analyst in the department. The officer will look at the video to see what the perpetrator touched in order to lift fingerprints. SOCOs tend to get handed these assignments because they're at the machine anyway,” he notes.

“It's not the best solution, and it’s not something I recommend because things can go wrong,” says Plaxton, who previously worked as a civilian forensic expert with the Hamilton Police Service and has served with Durham Regional Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

“If you're not qualified to do the work, it's possible that you will get data of poor quality,” he says. “The worst-case scenario is they may not be getting what we like to refer to in court as best evidence.”

While it may not make sense to contract out every case with video evidence, Plaxton says a certified analyst can assist with major investigations.

“In the grand scheme of things, if you make a mistake getting video of a shoplifter it’s obviously not as serious as making a similar mistake in a homicide case. Small police forces may want to consider bringing in an expert for their major cases."  

Plaxton offers a range of services including conducting proper training for the front-line officers as well as reviewing and analyzing video that’s already been collected.

“I can assess if it was done properly and I know what the problems are. This way, I can either correct the mistakes or explain them in my report,” he says.

Plaxton says while there may be some reluctance on the part of police departments to have civilians do investigative work, those fears are mostly unfounded.

“The beauty of video evidence is that it doesn’t have to necessarily be the original copy,” he says. “If a police department has a concern about the chain of custody, I can work with a certified true copy, which anybody in the IT department can produce.

“Any original evidence can be sent by registered mail and is locked in a safe in a secure building,” Plaxton adds.

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