GPS photo-mapping in law enforcement

     When Soon Kim, a Korean national working at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, disappeared during a boating trip on Lake Powell with his roommate in 1985, the subsequent investigation turned up more questions than answers — about both his...

     "GIS is used in all aspects of park management from environmental impact studies and natural resource mapping to construction planning, survey and law enforcement," Newcomb says. "We completed a bathymetric mapping of the entire Lake Powell at 10-foot contours for enhanced lake operations."

     Newcomb explains mapping the subsurface topography of the lake became critical several years earlier as the water level continued to drop due to drought in the Colorado River area, which feeds the lake. It became important for marina and ferry operators to know what lay below the water near their facilities. They had to plan ahead for the falling water levels to make sure they had sufficient depth to operate in. It is also used to navigate, project yearly beach acreages, and in search and recovery efforts.

     When the body was found in May 2005, officials checked a list of missing persons and concluded the remains were probably one of three apparent drowning victims, never accounted for. Fortunately, extensive notes had been taken at the time, including a detailed description of the shirt Kim was wearing the day of his reported drowning. The description matched the fabric found wrapped around the bones at the scene.

     "We used the GIS to cross reference the location of the body with the approximate location of where he was reported missing 20 years ago, and they were very close," says Newcomb. "Analysis of the GIS revealed the area where Kim was found was about 100 feet underwater in 1985."

     But in 2005, authorities still weren't sure if Kim had drowned by accident or by foul play. They realized the answers might be found at the site, and clues may even be deciphered by the layout of the crime scene itself. According to O'Dea, officials didn't know if the coroner was going to discover that Kim had died from a blow to the head or something else. The officials on site felt they had to preserve the site if it indeed turned out to be a crime scene.

     O'Dea explains that when bones and clothing are spread out over a large area, the pattern of dispersal can tell a forensics expert quite a bit about what may have happened. For example, the layout of the bones on the ground could reveal whether the body had been dismembered elsewhere and dumped there. Or the scene could help officials simply reach the conclusion that wave action or even coyotes had spread the items out over time.

     With the water rising by the hour, however, officials lacked the time to perform as much investigation on site as they would have liked. They called on Newcomb to bring in a digital photographic mapping technique he had recently introduced to the NPS GIS laboratory. In less than an hour, he would be able to photographically map the entire 3-acre site.

Photo mapping the scene

     Newcomb had recently purchased a Ricoh G3 digital camera equipped with a GPS card for use with the GPS-Photo Link. Although Newcomb uses real-time GPS equipment for cases like this, the GPS card provides sufficient location accuracy for projects where sub-meter accuracy is not necessary. The software correlates the precise locations where the photos were taken with their locations on the Glen Canyon GIS. Once on the site, he began snapping photos of each exposed body part, piece of clothing, or other evidence in a sequence recommended by the investigators. With each photo, the GPS card recorded the precise location with a time stamp of critical evidence.

     "It took me an hour to take the pictures and then just a few minutes to upload the photos from the camera into the photo-mapping software running inside our GIS back in Page," says Newcomb.

     The photo-mapping software automatically correlated the photos by GPS location and stamped each with coordinates, and time and date of collection. Newcomb was able to add a title to each frame as necessary. The photo-mapping package then georeferenced the photos to their locations on the GIS base map, denoting each body part and personal effect with an icon on the digital map. This created a spatially accurate map of evidence locations. Newcomb or an investigator could simply click on any icon on the GIS screen to view the actual photograph and read any notes entered into the system.

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