Evidence collection has benefited greatly from lasers. They can be used for trajectory analysis, measurement and evidence collection in and out of the lab. Because of their high intensity light beam compared to alternate light sources (ALS), lasers also are capable of uncovering evidence often missed by other ALS and are able to show evidence in greater detail and clarity — without spraying or special treatment.
However, until now, lasers were confined to the lab, being too large and unwieldy to transport to crime scenes. This lack of mobility required that evidence be identified and captured in the field and then taken to labs for further analysis.
Reconstructive trajectory analysis inspired the need for a ballistic laser for in-field investigations.
Previously, trajectory analysis had short-distance limitations by using tools such as probes, dowels, strings and the traditional red laser. These tools accompanied many difficulties such as drooping, sagging and bending — potentially creating inaccurate data for lab and court reconstruction. Additionally, the traditional laser could only show the terminal points and was difficult to visualize in less-than-ideal conditions without fogging agents or smoke — not to mention the complications to photograph the beam.
The CAO Group Inc., located in West Jordan, Utah, developed the Vector-BLS ballistic laser to combat these difficulties for indoor and outdoor trajectory reconstruction. The Vector, according to Professor Tim Palmbach at University of New Haven, Connecticut, "has the ability to display a bullet trajectory with tremendous brightness, thus making visualization and photographic documentation much simpler."
The Vector system operates from built-in 12-volt rechargeable batteries powering an adjustable beam range output of 0.1 to 300 milliwatts at 532 nanometers (nm). It is six times bright and has 100 times the power output of standard red lasers. Additionally, the laser may be operated while attached to an external power supply such as a vehicle or generator.
Important features of the Vector-BLS system include:
- A range of 1,000 yards to display both trajectory and terminal points.
- A tripod to increase stability on solid surfaces.
- Two leveling bubbles and adjustable screws for accurate data on slopes and uneven ground.
- A remote interlock switch to add distance between users and the laser.
- Separate horizontal and vertical buttons for complete angle control.
- Optional shut-off timer if desired — Vector will never shut off on its own.
- Saved vertical ranges of either 360 degrees or 400 gradians.
- Adjustable sighting scope to locate a distant point or target with dust cap.
A control panel display shows either all or current data selected. The upper control display indicates both the vertical and horizontal angles, based on predetermined zero-points. The controls allow users to choose between three different vertical modes:
- Zenith angle: Zero degrees is straight up; parallel with the horizon is 90 degrees, and straight down is 180 degrees.
- Vertical angle: Zero degrees is parallel with the horizon; straight up is 90 degrees, and straight down is displayed as 270 degrees.
- Height angle: Zero degrees is parallel with the horizon; straight up is displayed as positive 90 degrees, and straight down is displayed as negative 90 degrees.
Ballistic laser-gathered data not only assists investigators and officers in the field and labs, but in the courts as well.
"The courts will be able to visualize the proposed trajectory better," says Palmbach. "Officers will be able to give them actual hard data related to the vertical and horizontal aspects of the trajectory. Not only will it get much more objective, it will give opposing experts a better opportunity to evaluate each others work product and opinions derived from that analysis. Ultimately this increases creditability in the field of shooting reconstruction."