Products For The Investigator's Taste

The 2006 SHOT Show offered a feast for anyone with an appetite for firearms or outdoor sports equipment. But also hidden within the 1,870 booths covering 650,000 square feet of floor space at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, January 11-14, was a regular smorgasbord of items that could be applied by a technical investigator.

How's the weather?
Recording environmental conditions is becoming more important to an investigator. At interior scenes, temperature and humidity measurements, and accurate control, may be essential. Outdoors, temperature, humidity and wind conditions are of value to the investigator; tactical operators need wind, temperature and humidity details for snipers, and wind information for grenadiers.

To help investigators with these needs, Speedtech Instruments of Great Falls, Virginia, introduces its Windmate Series of handheld weather meters. The very affordable Windmate 350 incorporates an amazing number of features. First, the handle is a jackknife style, which keeps the hand from interfering with the sensors and also serves as a fold-out, convenient cover. In addition, the unit has a tripod fitting and attachment point for a lanyard. This device measures current, average and maximum wind with a variety of measurement systems. It also incorporates a digital compass, allowing the unit to determine wind direction, cross, tail, and head wind information. Its barometer supplies altimeter readings as well. The meter's humidity sensor provides relative humidity, wet bulb, dew point, and delta T measurements. Its temperature sensor records in both Fahrenheit and Celcius, and will calculate wind chill. The unit, which maintains a 48-hour history, will alarm if it senses barometric changes of a preset value, notifying the user of dangerous conditions.

The unit is built to military specifications, and is in use with the military. As such, it is available with a black handle/blue body or in coyote brown for military use.

If you only need wind information, look to the Windmate 100. The 200 adds temperature, the 300 humidity. If you are looking for a portable weather station to augment your crime scene, tactical or hazmat tool box, Speedtech's Windmate Series deserves a serious look.

Innovations in folding knives
Times change. For years, a folding, lock-back knife performed yeoman's duty for crime scene investigators (CSIs) and others involved with technical investigations. Today, cross contamination concerns require CSIs to constantly clean the blade, or carry a scalpel and swap out blades. Now a folding knife is available with a quickly swapped blade.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Havalon produces Piranta and Piranta-Z knives, which use a modified scalpel blade. The blade, a stainless-steel No. 60XT, snaps onto the mounting stud like any scalpel blade. It then becomes part of a folding knife, opening with a thumbstud, and safely locking open with a liner lock.

The original Piranta features a stainless-steel handle with inlaid G-10 grip panels. The Piranta-Z uses a black Zytel handle with inlaid rubber grip pads. Both knives feature an open-back design providing a clean tool, and a pocket clip for convenient carry.

A black nylon belt holster is available to carry the knife and a supply of blades. Spare blades are available at a very reasonable price, ensuring the investigator has ready access to clean, sharp blades.

Havalon is a division of Havel's Inc., which has been manufacturing surgical blades since 1981. Havalon has introduced a convenient, sharp and practical knife design of tremendous utility to any CSI, criminalist, bomb technician, or other technical specialist in the criminal justice field.

Toting gun evidence
Often, simple answers to problems have tremendous application. In Colorado, a hunter, tired of long hikes while trying to balance a rifle, looked at the carry handle on an AR-15. He thought: Why not on any long gun? He then invented the Guntrol Gun Carrier, a handle that is designed to snap onto any long gun at its balance point, without interfering with firearm function or sighting.

On the street, investigators encounter long arms in greater numbers than ever before. Enter the Guntrol Gun Carrier from Chain Mountains Sporting Goods of Paonia, Colorado. Carefully attached to a long gun, the firearm can be carried safely, with minimal potential for damage to evidence. With some law enforcement personnel being unfamiliar and even uncomfortable with firearms, it provides an increased comfort level when handling them.

The Guntrol Gun Carrier consists of a heavy steel rod, shaped to snap over a firearm, with a polymer covering to protect firearm finishes, and a choice of a plastic or wooden carry handle. Simple and strong, designed to give the hunter many years of service, it will operate as an investigative tool well. For the active, metropolitan crime scene unit or the wildlife officer, frequently recovering long guns far from proper evidence collection supplies, this is a tool that will help safeguard evidence as well as maintain safety.

Documenting wound channel or projectile expansion
At times, a forensic specialist or firearms instructor will need to document wound channel and projectile expansion. Ballistic gelatin, a long-time standard for this purpose, is difficult to make and use, and somewhat expensive. Ballistic Technology of Princeton, West Virginia, addresses this with The Bullet Test Tube.

Available in a variety of sizes to accommodate cartridges from handguns through powerful Magnum rifle calibers, it is essentially a cardboard tube with a proprietary paraffin matrix. A target spot on the end aids aiming. After being shot, the paraffin is slipped from the tube and either measured to determine the actual size of the cavity, or carefully split to visualize the cavity and permit recovery of the projectile.

This product is also designed to permit reuse. New tubes may be obtained, the paraffin may be melted and recast, and most of the unit thus recycled. However, in many law enforcement applications this is less likely than for a hunter or ballistics researcher.

The Bullet Test Tube provides a convenient and cost-effective alternative to ballistics gelatin, especially for the agency with an only occasional need for cavity testing. Easily stored, quickly and conveniently put to use, it can provide any agency with a valuable tool for various applications.

Projectile capture
Firearms labs and training facilities need great versatility today. But with budget limitations, the initial cost and maintenance expenses of ballistic capture systems are of increasing concern. Water recovery systems — heavy, immovable, somewhat maintenance intensive, and expensive, which also often result in damaged projectiles — are losing ground in the 21st century.

A serious challenge in this market comes from the Duke Projectile Recovery System (DPRS), a product of Ballistic Research Inc. of Alpharetta, Georgia. The DPRS is available in several sizes, from a low-volume handgun caliber recovery unit through a high-volume Magnum rifle recovery system. Mounted on wheels, and weighing from 250 to 1,500 pounds, the units may be moved about a lab, rolled out of the way for storage, or rolled out of the lab to conduct demonstrations.

The DPRS uses natural and manmade fibers to capture the projectile. As a result, the projectile will not expand or deform but will maintain barrel-produced stria. Samples provided by Ballistic Research included a .40 S&W jacketed hollowpoint, fired from a Glock completely intact, with no expansion, plus a 7.62x39mm full-metal-jacket bullet with no damage whatsoever.

The high-caliber rifle system, capable of recovering up to a .458 Magnum, weighs 1,500 pounds. Its initial price is competitive with, or less than, a custom installation. When used for rifle bullet recovery, it has a life expectancy of 1,500 to 1,850 shots before it needs repacking; and repack kits are quite economical.

The DPRS provides a versatile, practical and economical alternative to traditional water recovery units for firearms labs and training facilities. More importantly, its fiber recovery system ensures an examiner recovers undamaged test bullets for microscopic comparison.

Shelter in the field
Portable, easily assembled shelter has become a mainstay for field operations. Whether a small shelter, supplying worker protection while excavating a grave, or a larger shelter providing protection to equipment and a rest area for investigators, pop-up shelters have become popular with responders.

Watertown, Connecticut-based Shelter Logic has been a leader in portable, fabric-covered shelters, manufacturing items from 8-foot by 8-foot canopies to 72-foot by 120-foot heavy-duty structures. Recognizing the popularity of its shelters with the public safety community, the company now offers its 10-foot by 10-foot and 10-foot by 15-foot pop-up shelters with colored finishes and marked for identification. Available in green with yellow-gold print for sheriff's offices, black with white print for SWAT teams and police departments, red with white print for the fire service, and blue with white for EMS, these canopies improve efficiency at a scene, especially a multi-agency response, by providing visual identity to the tents that spring up to provide work sites for various responders.

Shelter Logic also has portable K-9 kennels. These units consist of preformed chain link enclosures combined with a sized-to-fit overhead shelter. They are ideal for training and trials, and for staging of dogs awaiting assignment at major manhunts, crime scene searches, VIP sweeps, etc. Sun and weather protected, open air for ventilation, and easily set up and broken down, these shelters give K-9 units a valuable option for field operations.

Forensic lighting tools
Lighting is such an important tool to everyone in law enforcement. Whether one is an officer conducting a building check or traffic stop, or an investigator processing a crime scene, a convenient and versatile light is mandatory.

First Light USA of Seymour, Illinois, introduces the Liberator as a tool to enhance officer safety, providing an ergonomic, almost hands-free, device that compliments the officer doing the nuts and bolts of police work. The Liberator, however, is capable of more.

This L-shaped unit straps to the hand and becomes part of it. It uses a 3-watt Luxeon LED to provide powerful illumination, yet allows the user to select one of three lighting levels, depending on the needs of the scene.

Constructed of aerospace-grade aluminum and carbon-filled polymer, it is both strong and easily cleaned, its sealed construction maintaining water resistance to a depth of 6 feet.

The LED housing swivel permits accurate aim when attached to the hand and set on a surface and pointed at a work point.

For the CSI, the Liberator may be strapped to the hand and light is always focused where the hand is. Dust for prints, sample stains, whatever activity, and light is there. Users can take it off, set it on a surface, aim it at the work place, and light is again available, focused on a single point.

A bomb technician, enveloped in a bomb suit, has light beyond that of the integral helmet light, light which is aimed where the need is, not where the helmet permits it to shine. Yet it does not tie up the tech's hands, force the tech to exchange tool for light, or to manipulate a light on an available surface, while conducting time-sensitive, hands-on operations.

As unusual as it appears, the Liberator brings technical investigators a remarkable new tool to enhance their capabilities, efficiency and safety.

Shielding the eyes
In the 20+ years since blood borne pathogen protection became a recognized necessity for crime scene investigations, various equipment has emerged. In most cases, hand, respiratory and eye protection provides adequate defense. Usually, eye protection consists of goggles or spectacles. SAM LSI of Newport, Oregon, introduces the MEDShield — eye protection which is easily stored, easily used and very effective.

A MEDShield is a thin plastic shield with adhesive tabs on the edges. To use, the user simply removes the shield from its packaging, takes off the protective sheets, folds the two wings, and adheres the shield to his temples to protect his eyes. The shields work with most normal eye wear as well as with disposable and half-face respirators. And because they are disposable, the shields eliminate the need for the user to decontaminate them later.

Marking, signaling and area lighting
Chemical light sticks are a popular tool for marking, signaling and area lighting. Their useful life is limited to about 12 hours, at which time they need to be replaced with a new stick and disposed of. Kriana of Prescott, Arizona, has introduced the Krill Electroluminescent Lightstick as an alternative to expendable chemical light sticks.

The Krill Lightstick uses electroluminescent panels, powered by AA or AAA batteries. When not in use, it may be switched off, saving its power for a later use. Depending on model and color, a Krill Lightstick will provide from 50 to 120 hours of light output. When the light output diminishes, replace the batteries.

The Krill Lightstick is available in green, blue, white, yellow, orange, red and infrared. Additionally, strobe models are available in the same variety of colors for attention-grabbing effect when needed.

As with any light stick, the Krill is a great tool to replace flares at roadsides, mark evidence at crime scenes, establish landing zones, designate access paths, and more. Factor in, over its lifetime, its value as opposed to disposable chemical light sticks, and it becomes an economical and excellent tool to pack into the response vehicle.

Metal detection at the scene
Garrett Metal Detectors continues to recognize the needs of investigators with the introduction of the CSI 250 metal detector. Where many detectors offered to the law enforcement market are merely hobbyist units, the Garland, Texas, company offers units designed to address the CSI's needs.

The company's latest offering, the CSI 250, is immediately identifiable — it is bright yellow instead of the signature green of other Garrett units. Discrimination controls allow a user to trim the search to specific types of metal, or conduct a non-discrimination or all-metal search. A graphic target ID indicates common crime scene targets. A scale indicates target depth.

Battery condition is shown on the display, allowing an investigator to keep strong batteries installed. The unit includes a submersible 6.5-inch by 9-inch elliptical search coil, designed to increase the area covered per sweep over a circular coil. The detector comes with headphones, an important accessory not often included with other units.

Garrett continues to recognize the needs of law enforcement with the introduction of the CSI 250. Industry specific with advanced features, yet economical, this is an excellent metal detector for investigations.

Volatile evidence collection
Volatile evidence — explosives, flammable liquids, solvents, chemicals — requires storage in impermeable containers. Most often, this will be new, unused paint cans. Nylon bags have been available for some time, these bags being impermeable to vapors. However, most require heat sealing — both an inconvenience and, potentially, a safety hazard.

Watchful Eye Designs LLC of Park City, Utah, introduces the O.P.Sak, a "zip top" bag constructed of a barrier film made with nylon, polyethylene and edoh. The O.P.Sak has been tested by the National Association of Scuba Diving Schools, and found to maintain its seal to depths in excess of 60 meters. It also received high marks in testing by the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit, establishing that, until aggressive force was used directly against the zip top, it maintained its seal.

The O.P.Sak is available as a stock item in 9-inch by 10-inch, 12.5-inch by 20-inch, and 28-inch by 20-inch sizes. Watchful Eye can also provide custom-sized bags.

The O.P.Sak improves upon existing material by adding a convenient, practical and secure sealing method to the nylon based bag. Zip it shut, apply evidence sealing tape, and it is ready to store. No impulse heat sealer, no flammability hazard. Just secure storage for volatiles.

Emergency medical kit
No matter what one's assignment, emergency medical treatment may be needed. While the patrol car may have a well-equipped first aid kit, most common pocket first aid kits contain a couple of Band-Aids, two aspirins, and a small container of antibiotic ointment — hardly the tools to save a life when there is extreme trauma.

Tactical Medical Packs of Pleasantville, New York, introduces the Tac-Pak, a 5-inch by 8.5-inch, vacuum-packed, hermetically sealed foil pouch containing gloves, mask, 5-inch by 9-inch abdominal pad, 4-inch by 3-inch gauze pad, a transparent dressing, 4.1 yards of 4-inch roll bandage, and both 1- and 2-inch tape. Carry it in a BDU pocket, a suit jacket pocket, a purse, or a pocket on a tactical vest — it will provide the tools needed to stop massive blood loss in the first, critical minutes of an emergency.

Short fusees alternative
Fusees are found in most American police cars, being used to mark traffic lanes, flag traffic, establish landing zones, and other uses. But fusees have limitations — relatively short burn times, flammable hazards, color limited to red. Electronic flares have been introduced to address these shortcomings, and add more versatility for emergency signaling.

The Power Flare PF200 Safety Light, distributed by San Jose, California-based PF Distribution Center Inc., is one of the latest of these electronic flares. The PF200 is roughly the size of a hockey puck, making it a very convenient and easily handled item. It is available powered by either CR123 lithium batteries or with rechargeable batteries. The lithium model floats, the rechargeable will sink, and both are waterproof to 80 feet. Being waterproof, they may be decontaminated if exposed to hazardous materials at a scene. The units are intrinsically safe, allowing their use in flammable and explosive atmospheres.

And, they are strong; in testing they have been driven over by a 24-ton armored personnel carrier, and placed on top of a 2-pound charge of C-4 plastic explosive. In both tests, the Power Flare survived, suffered no damage other than aesthetic, surface damage, and continued to function.

The PF200 is available with orange, yellow or olive-drab exterior cases, and red, amber, white, blue, green or infrared LEDs.

It is programmed to provide any of nine patterns, including a solid. Depending on the pattern selected and the power source, it may function up to 100 hours before recharging or battery replacement.

When the burn time, long life, and multiple utility of the Power Flare are considered, it soon becomes more cost effective than fusees. And the utility it offers goes beyond marking a path or LZ, it can mark evidence, be worn for safety, used for multiple purposes by scuba teams, and much more, dictated by the user's imagination.

The view
Whether known as borescopes, endoscopes or fiber optic probes, viewing instruments have become valued tools to the law enforcement community. Tactical teams use them to gain intelligence on the placement of person and room layout before making entry. Bomb technicians use them to view contents of suspicious packages. Crime scene investigators use them to non-destructively inspect walls or other areas to determine the presence of evidence. Firearms instructors, armorers and examiners use them to inspect firearms for safety, maintenance and evidence.

Tactical Electronics produces the Hand Held Inspection Tool, or H.H.I.T., as a highly portable video scope. The H.H.I.T. mounts an extreme low-light video on the end of a 6-inch flexible stalk, plus two variable intensity LED lights, which are available in white, blue or green. The camera head measures 0.687 inches, allowing access through a hole less than ¾ inch in diameter. The unit is powered by three 3-volt, lithium batteries.

An interesting feature of the unit is its integral RF transmitter, capable of line-of-sight transmission to almost 1 mile. A tactical officer can provide instant sharing to his commander. Similarly, a CSI can share the internal view of a wall, and even record what is seen before damage is made to the wall. A bomb squad can mount the H.H.I.T. to its robot and safely look inside any target the camera will fit into.

The H.H.I.T. combines features, size and capabilities to make it a prime choice for a video inspection and viewing tool. It is a cutting-edge tool, for use in an evolving world.

Hands-free lighting
Hands-free lighting is a tremendous aid to the investigator. Processing for fingerprints, collecting evidence, writing notes, all are made easier when the officer does not need to juggle tools, pen and light. The introduction of specifically designed tools is also a great improvement over holding a flashlight in one's mouth or taped to an arm.

The Brimlight is an affordable hands-free light source. A lightweight, foam rubber-like material, shaped like the brim of a ball cap, contains five LEDs, four CR2032 batteries, and a push-button switch. Two spring metal clips attach it to the brim of a ball cap, or any hat with a similar brim thickness. When lit, the unit provides a pattern of light out to 20 feet or more.

Currently, the light is available in white or red LEDs, and will soon be available with green LEDs. The manufacturer is testing UV LEDs, and hopes to produce the Brimlight with UV capability soon.

The Naples, Florida, company's BrimLight provides an economical, hands-free lighting device that can attach to a variety of headgear.

The 2006 SHOT Show's forensics' offerings were a true feast for a law enforcement investigator.