When Zarco 66 gasoline station was robbed Thursday night, Lawrence Police went looking for security cameras at and near the scene, hoping a critical piece of evidence had been caught on tape.
"We'll look at ATMs, banks, quick shops," Officer Dean Brown said Friday while he looked through videotapes from the investigation. "Even if they're uninvolved, sometimes a suspect will have gone through there."
Police say they haven't had the tools or training to properly analyze the more than 300 videotapes most of them from surveillance cameras they acquire every year. But that's about to change.
Two officers attended an FBI training seminar in October. On Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission is expected to approve purchase of a $19,096 "forensic video" system.
Brown attended the FBI seminar. "We found out we're missing a lot of evidence," he said.
A chief problem is trying to make a hard copy of the image on screen so that pictures of a suspect can be distributed to officers, the public and the media.
"What we used to do is take a standard VCR, hook it up to a TV and try to print an image on a stand-alone printer," Brown said. "What we end up with is garbage, usually."
It's even more difficult to pull video from "multiplexer" security systems that record several images at once, Brown said, and sometimes the television just isn't big enough.
"We've ... been missing where it cuts off the images on the side of the screen," he said. "If we expand the view, we can expand the picture of somebody we can identify."
Brown said the new system, known as the AVID Forensic Video System, will eliminate those problems. It also will permit police to make digital copies of the videos, so that data isn't lost in the copying.
"The system we're looking at will probably be more advanced than anything in the state," Brown said.
In a memorandum on the topic, Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun said alternatives to purchasing the system include paying a private company about $500 an hour to do the analysis, or sending tapes to the FBI.
"For the FBI option, outside agency requests are given a low priority and minimum turnaround time is approximately six months," she wrote.
Brown said the system will probably lead to wider use of video evidence.
"A lot more places will be putting in surveillance systems," he said, "and you'll see a lot more of it in court."