Getting the 'big picture'

      Think of a crime scene as being like a kaleidoscope. Similar to twisting the end, with the kaleidoscope's array of mirrors and colored shapes, the slightest alteration to a fresh crime scene can give an entirely different look and reality to...


   The ScanStation can be used indoors or out, in complete darkness or bright sunshine. It can measure up to 900 feet, and because of its range and versatility, the California Highway Patrol, which uses six of the scanners, reports it can open roadways up to 50-percent faster after major collisions.

Details are in the diagram

   Static displays of crime scenes are used most often in court presentations. However, depending on the digital imaging vendor's product used, these displays must usually be supported with other data.

   Therefore, diagramming software such as Crime Zone Version 8, a program from The CAD Zone Inc., is essential for creating a 3D diagram of the crime scene using measurements taken with a total station, a photogrammetry program, or some other mapping device.

   "With nearly all of the digital scene capture methods, the … program can use digital photos right in the diagram," explains Janice White, CAD Zone president. Crime Zone not only imports measurement data from other digital sources, but it can import satellite photos, evidence photos, and even superimpose a building's front exterior in 3D view, White says.

Measurements always vital

   No matter what digital imaging technology is used, the crime scene data measurements are at the core of showing the events that most likely occurred. That's certainly the consensus at the Force Investigation Division of the Los Angeles Police Department in California. The division, which uses Panoscan, does not investigate but rather captures the crime scene.

   The unit uses its digital imaging equipment to supplement a Crime Zone diagram made from measurements of a crime scene generated by a total station.

   "The measurements [are] the most critical thing," Sgt. Barbara Barrist emphasizes. "We're able to take a 2D diagram showing a house or a large facility within the diagramming software, click to a specific room, and show a Panoscan movie. This is really helpful for attorneys going to court."

Modeling to scale

   Another crime scene mapping solution to consider is the DeltaSphere-3000 system from 3rdTech. According to 3rdTech, the DeltaSphere product combines 3D laser scanning with high-resolution digital photographs to produce photo-realistic 3D computer graphics models.

   "When a [DeltaSphere] user is done, he has a to-scale, color computer graphic model of a crime scene that can be studied from any viewpoint," explains Doug Schiff, 3rdTech's vice president of marketing and business development. "Our SceneVision-3D software ... can produce diagrams, 3D computer graphics models, and panoramic images," Schiff explains. "You can add lines to show bullet or blood trajectories.

   "And we are reading total station data into SceneVision," he says, adding that soon a total station function will be part of the product.

   SceneVision can also add close-up photos with a digital camera as high-resolution insets directly into the 3D model.

   If you need to capture a large, sprawling crime scene, SceneVision is "not a very long-range scanner," Schiff notes. "If the scene will extend for a few blocks or past many houses, that's when you might want to combine SceneVision with total station data since most total stations will shoot long distances."

Cost justified

   The cost for digital imaging systems is pricey, with some systems starting at around $40,000 to $50,000; and depending on the product purchased, it could rise to as much as $200,000. Is the technology worth the price tags? Apparently, selected law enforcement agencies think so. But it also depends on the amount of crime scene investigation required for a particular agency.

   The Los Angeles Police Department's Barrist reports a positive experience with digital imaging technology using a Panoscan device. She says scanning resolution is high and that she can accomplish four scans in as little as 30 minutes.

   Since there is always pressure to clear a crime scene quickly, Barrist says Panoscan helps do that well. "I can clear a crime scene for a 2- to 3-minute imaging, then move to another view for an additional 2-minute imaging," she says. She notes that it is more difficult to clear a scene requiring more than 20 minutes for just one laser imaging; such scenes require more than one imaging.

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