Surveillance video "re-digitized" in Trayvon Martin case

April 3, 2012
Firm's digital refocusing technique reveals new details

I used to scoff when I would watch security-oriented fictional TV shows like 24 and Law & order and they would take a grainy surveillance video and somehow, magically "focus" it so you could make out fine details.

These days, fiction has a way of becoming reality.

The most electric, emotionally-charged news story of the past couple weeks has been the shooting death of young Trayvon Martin. Last week, the Sanford Police Department released surveillance video of the shooter, George Zimmerman.

While the raw video looks a bit fuzzy, ABC News wanted to get a better look at Zimmerman, so they "enhanced" the video with the help of Forensic Protection Inc., a California video- and audio-enhancement firm. Check it out here.

The ABC News reporter, Matt Gutman, explains what was done to the video: "We enhanced it, we re-digitized it to find what we think is the clearest, sharpest images of what happened that night, revealing for the first time what appears to be a pair of gashes or welts on the back of Zimmerman's head."

Personally, I thought it was only possible with HD-quality surveillance -- and while I can't say for certain how many megapixels the surveillance footage contains, from my experience, the images do not look like megapixel surveillance images. In fact, they absolutely look like they are in standard definition. No 20MP images here, that's for sure.

Be that as it may, FPI President Douglas Carner told the Orlando Sentinel that the video released by police had very little "noise" — the grainy, excess pixels. Carner told the Sentinel that the largest issue with the video was the focus. The cameras were focused on set points inside and outside of the Police Department and not on Zimmerman's head.

Carner also explained exactly how his firm was able to "enhance" the video to reveal the cuts on Zimmerman's head -- potential evidence that a struggle actually happened. He said they used the badges on officers' uniforms to refocus the video. Once a setting was found at which the badges appeared clearly, they applied it to Zimmerman's head.

Carner compared it to work he has done in bar-fight video. In bars, he said, the camera is usually focused on the register. "They'll be video of a fight in front of a bar," Carner told the Sentinel. "By digitally refocusing, he says, "the cash register goes out of focus and the fight scene slides into clearer view."

Even if this what-will-they-be-able-to-do-next technological ehancement works, I truly hope the "re-digitzation" process destroys this video's value as evidence. When is the last time you saw a photoshopped picture in a courtroom? Hopefully never.

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