Imaging Software Suite Assists Police Identifications

This spring, the California Highway Patrol was looking for help for the witnesses to a child-abduction case, who were faced with manually examining hundreds of photos of cars thought to have been used in the crime. Turning to the World Wide Web, the CHP officers happened on ImageWare Software Inc., a San Diego company that was about to release Vehicle ID, a tool that lets witnesses electronically pore over thousands of images of vehicle makes and models.

"The witnesses knew it was a white car but were having difficulty figuring out what kind of car," said Jim Miller, ImageWare's chairman and chief executive officer. "Vehicle ID was used to put images in front of the witnesses to help police get a description of the car. There were literally thousands of leads," said Det. David Bertoldo, an investigator who worked on the case, which involved a 10-year-old Beaumont, Calif., boy. "We needed to be able to build a composite and rapidly scan hundreds of cars and present them to witnesses. In the past, witnesses had to go manually through the books, which do not contain nearly as many images as does the software. This way, witnesses could go back to their homes and plug in laptops and continue looking through samples."

Vehicle ID is part of a planned suite of software tools called the Crime Reduction Image Management and Enhancement System (CRIMES), which ImageWare wants to market to state and local law enforcement agencies.

So far five of 10 modules have been completed. In addition to Vehicle ID, there is Suspect ID, which aids police in constructing facial composites; Crime Lab, which can be used by detectives to doctor old photos or images taken from surveillance video; Face ID, which enables law enforcement officials to match current photos against databases of facial images; and the Crime Capture System, an image/document management system tailored to law enforcement applications.

ImageWare plans future CRIMES components, including software for crime scene diagramming, videotape enhancement, record keeping and the ability to transmit images and information between police jurisdictions via the Internet. The company plans the entire suite to be finished by May 1, 1998.

The company is positioning the suite as an affordable way for law enforcement to make more use of imaging technology, Miller said. The software, which runs on a 386 or 486 PC, is priced at $1,600 for the first copy and $400 a copy if an agency buys five or more. The modules can be purchased or leased-options that Miller said might appeal to law enforcement agencies under budget constraints. "We want to encourage the use of these things in the field as much as we can," he said.

The company began to pursue law enforcement imaging technology in 1993. "We were looking for an advantageous market to apply our core technology, which was a set of powerful tools that included graphics and photo image editing and enhancements," Miller said. "We cast about looking for areas to apply this technology, and law enforcement was an area that intrigued us. Law enforcement had not come as quickly into photo editing as other areas had, but we anticipated they would be coming quickly." In fact, ImageWare's facial composite product, Suspect ID, was intended to replace an acetate product developed by Smith and Wesson in 1947. "They were using a big recipe box that contained cartoon pictures of a nose, hair and so on, and officers would build a picture and then put it on the Xerox machine," Miller said.

Newer technology "gives an officer on the street the capability to build his own composite while the event is still fresh," Miller said. "Our vision is to provide the police with a set of investigative tools that can be used once a person enters the criminal-justice system until the time they are dismissed."

ImageWare's home page is located at www.emeraldcity.com.

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