Photoshop Blog

May 17, 2013 /Photoshop /

Adobe & Law Enforcement: Meet Sr. Solutions Architect John Penn II

Many law enforcement agencies and communities this week are commemorating National Police Week, which takes place during the week of May 15, Peace Officers Memorial Day. During this week, we’re thinking about how photographs play more of a role than ever in helping law enforcement officials gather evidence. To learn more, we met with Adobe Sr. Solutions Architect John Penn II, who dedicates his work to helping law enforcement solve cases with digital imaging technology.

How did you get started in your current role as Senior Solutions Architect?
John: Fifteen years ago this week I started at Adobe as a senior computer scientist on Photoshop and that was my primary job for a decade. About 10 years ago, a colleague on the Adobe Philanthropy Council asked if I’d be interested in attending a law enforcement conference and attending a session on Photoshop. That conference turned out to be the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against Children conference. One of the sessions at that conference by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was on identifying the victims of child exploitation. At the time, this was relatively new to law enforcement. I was both horrified by the nature of the crimes, but also intrigued by how images could be used to rescue the young victims of those crimes. I was confident that Photoshop could play a role in these investigations, and that spawned a personal interest that became the focus of my career. After years of working to help law enforcement in these cases in my personal time, with some persistence and support from others at Adobe, the work became my full time job and Senior Solutions Architect for Law Enforcement Technologies became my title.

In what ways does Photoshop technology help law enforcement?
John: Cameras have become an integrated part of our society. They are carried in our pockets and mounted to walls. As a result, crimes are more and more frequently captured in images and video. In daily life it’s no longer uncommon to see images or video of a crime in progress played on the news. Law enforcement would like to leverage that evidence to solve crimes. But sometimes, the critical clues are locked away behind sensor noise, poor lighting, blurry images or are in minute and hard to see details. Photoshop is a powerful tool in the hands of trained law enforcement, which can assist them in getting crucial information from digital media.

Of course, beyond working with image evidence, there are many other tools in Photoshop that are useful to law enforcement. Photoshop is used in a wide variety of forensic sciences including document forensics, working with fingerprints and processing other kinds of evidence.

What types of crimes do you help solve or prevent with digital imaging?
John: Digital imaging is important to a wide variety of law enforcement work. It’s used in the analysis of photos that law enforcement takes when investigating a crime scene. It’s used in different ways when separating a fingerprint from a complex background in a digital image in a forensic lab. In investigating crimes against children it’s used in different ways. Each type of crime and each investigator will have different techniques at their disposal to investigate the crime at hand.

For example, in cases when law enforcement is conducting surveillance on a suspect vehicle, it may not be possible to secure a photo of the car from an angle that won’t give away the investigation. While it’s always best to capture an image in a way that won’t need post-processing, there are techniques in Photoshop that can help clarify the contents of images. In the example below, a vehicle is photographed with a DSLR from a rather severe angle making it difficult to read the plates on the font of the vehicle. After some processing in Photoshop we’re able to clearly make out the plate number and registered state on the vehicle.

Not an actual case photo

Techniques like this have varied results, so it’s critical to understand how to apply the techniques as well as how other factors including resolution, lighting, camera noise and blur will effect the results. Which is why we offer training and materials to law enforcement doing this type of processing. Just as important is listening to law enforcement and having an open communication channel with the investigators in the field doing this kind of work. That helps us develop better algorithms and techniques that take into consideration real-world factors we may not anticipate in development of features.

Can you tell a story or provide a specific example of a time that the technology in Photoshop helped solve a crime and/or save a life?
Because of the nature of the work, as well as legal and privacy concerns, I can’t give a specific example. But I can generally say that there are many examples of Photoshop and other Adobe tools like Premiere, Audition and Acrobat used to help solve crimes and save lives. I’m incredibly proud of the tools we develop and the innovation and care that’s put into them. I’ve seen Photoshop put to incredible use, and along with great police work, rescue the most innocent victims from some of the worst crimes imaginable.

Can you share any insight into new technology you’re developing to benefit law enforcement?
I can share insight into the thought process behind the new tools we’re developing. For me understanding the investigative challenges and the role technology plays in the commission or solving of the crime, is critical to the development of useful tools. For example, understanding what happens to a photo in the various stages of its lifecycle, from camera to evidence, can make all the difference between a tool that works well in the lab, and one that works well in the field.

How do you see the relationship between Photoshop and law enforcement advancing as technology improves?
John: I see the work with law enforcement as an ongoing partnership. I think it’s critical that we understand the challenges law enforcement faces, especially in investigating crimes against children. I expect that as we come to better understand those challenges we will continue to develop tools that will help them be successful in their mission.

I feel like I have the best job at Adobe, because I get to sit right in the middle of that relationship. At Adobe I live and work with the amazingly talented and creative folks on the Photoshop team and other teams at the company. But I also have the opportunity to work with the incredibly dedicated folks in law enforcement and other organizations like NCMEC, who are constantly working to keep our communities and children safe.


Join the discussion

  • […] is a part of an interview with John Penn II, Adobe’s Senior Solutions Architect, found on Adobe’s blog and republished here with […]

  • By Thomas Vanhoutte - 10:13 AM on May 17, 2013  

    This is truly amazing.
    It’s great to see how Adobe can help law enforcements.

  • By vee - 3:55 AM on May 18, 2013  

    I am dubious as to veracity of that image in the article.

    • By Jeff - 9:40 AM on May 19, 2013  

      Don’t knock it just because you don’t get it. I’ve seen it done.

    • By andrew - 9:20 PM on May 19, 2013  

      It works, I saved that image and was easily able to extract the same result.

      • By Klausgb - 6:45 AM on May 22, 2013  

        What tools did you use to make that image appear clearly? I’m guessing mainly skew and stretch, but what sort of filtering can you use to clarify an image?

        • By andrew - 7:35 PM on May 22, 2013  

          Only a fractional amount of unsharp masking. If anyone wants to know, make a copy of just the licence plate area, stretch it out using Free Transform, with a bit of Skewing to line it up properly, and a tiny amount of unsharp mask to help bring out the detail, done.

  • By john wallace - 4:54 AM on May 18, 2013  

    I just come across this video. Thanks to John Penn 11 and the people at Adobe for making our little corner of the world a better place to live. John you are a true hero.

  • […] From aging missing children to digital forensics, Photoshop is a huge to tool for law enforcement. Watch the below video which interviews one Adobe’s engineers and read the rest the article on […]

  • […] A few years ago, John Penn was invited to attend the Internet Crimes Against Children Conference and share his knowledge as a Photoshop engineer. The experience changed his life. Now he’s a Senior Solutions Architect helping law enforcement agencies around the world use Photoshop to combat the exploitation of children. […]

  • By Sofia - 6:41 AM on May 21, 2013  

    Deseo Poder tener la satisfaccion de usar Fhotoshop

  • By Dynamic Web Training - 4:11 AM on May 22, 2013  

    Well done John. Interesting what can be done with Photoshop

  • By Tim Stewart - 9:25 PM on May 23, 2013  

    Grateful Hello to John and his security staff at Adobe!

    I am very pleased to know that Adobe has taken steps to be assistant in the fight to rid the creative world of this sickening, predatory activity. Keep up the good work, and I would like to be pointed to any resource material that is available, or directed to any newsletter, blog, or official information site concerning this issue.

    John, I would like to pick your brain on some aspects of this area, if at possible, later this year. I will call sometime within the coming months, as I am upgrading much of the technology that I have access to at this time. That procedure is taking up all available minutes in my current daily schedule, but I look forward to talking to you once this retooling is complete.

    Again, Thank you John and the Adobe staff!

    Tim Stewart
    Elan International Security

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  • By Jane Gregory - 5:21 AM on May 27, 2013  

    It is truly amazing to read how Photoshop is being used to help the police. Didn’t know of this fact. Thanks Lex Van for posting this 🙂 or else I wouldn’t have come to know yet another facet of the great work you guys do

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  • By Scott - 10:29 PM on May 28, 2013  

    Great work, Adobe. I imagine this story getting better as Adobe works to add face recognition to Lightroom.

  • […] This can have huge implications, everything from enhancing precious photos of your loved ones, to crime analysis and forensics. Speaking of which, did you know Adobe does some amazing work with law enforcement and image forensics? […]

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