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...

Focus on schools

   The uses of digital imaging are varied, ranging from scanning crime scenes to creating virtual tours of scene exteriors and interiors, to tactical planning for public buildings.

   Schools, which today have become a major target for active shooting incidents, are well suited to digital imaging scanning device applications. In fact, offers Minnesota forensic expert Schmalzbauer, there are so-called "safe school" programs whereby school administrators work closely with local police departments to develop a protocol in case of a critical incident. If a police department has a digital imaging device, it can document the layout of a school's buildings.

   "Usually, if you have a major shooting incident, you're going to have more departments (or first responders) coming in to assist, and they may not know the layout of the school, or [have] never been inside," Schmalzbauer explains. "To be able to look at [the layout of buildings] in a preliminary way gives these responders a big advantage."

Image alterations a concern

   When law enforcement agencies first learned of thermal imaging technology, they were hesitant to adopt it right away, reasoning that courts may not accept the scanned image (a still photo).

   A big part of this fear rested in the belief that a digital image that had been scanned could be altered or manipulated.

   However, many forensic groups reject this notion. Among them is the Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technology (SWGIT), one of several sub-groups of the Mendota Heights, Minn.-based International Association for Identification. On its Web site, SWGIT offers a litany of "myths" about the use of digital imaging for crime scene investigations along with responses that debunk them.

   SWGIT challenges the myth that scanned digital images are easy prey for manipulation by retorting there are methods to prove a digital file's integrity, and that experts may be able to determine whether a digital image, film photography, or film negative has been altered.

   Schmalzbauer argues that digital imaging technology yields a credible representation of a crime scene's details. "It's a high-resolution digital image," he says. "As long as you testify that it's a true and accurate representation of the scene you scanned, it's like anything else you would testify to based on evidence documented with a regular camera."

   Bob Galvin is a freelance writer based in Oregon City, Ore.

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