Chattanooga Police Department buys two Leica ScanStations and early on deploys the advanced technology to successfully document a demanding major homicide scene.

Early this year the Chattanooga, Tennessee Police department added a formidable tool to its already robust arsenal of law enforcement technology with the purchase of two Leica ScanStation C10 3-D laser scanners. The agency is the first in Tennessee to acquire the high-tech devices. To meet the needs of this sprawling city of 168,000, served by over 400 sworn officers, the department dedicated one Leica ScanStation for traffic accident investigations, the other for crime scene mapping.

For Assistant Chief Tim Carroll, head of the department’s Criminal Investigations Unit, the acquisition represented a quantum leap in the department’s crime scene mapping capability. What he could not anticipate was events would soon provide an opportunity to demonstrate the Leica ScanStation‘s extraordinary capabilities for crime scene investigation.

“I had first seen the Leica system last year on the A&E TV show, Crime 360 and I had mentioned it to our homicide detectives,” said Chief Carroll. “We average twenty to twenty-five homicides a year here, and we had been looking for new technology to help with crime suppression and criminal investigations and the ScanStation looked like an excellent candidate.”

The Leica ScanStation C10 is an easy-to-use, compact and portable 3D laser scanner that can capture 50,000 measurement points per second with an accuracy of ¼ inch. The system also features an internal digital camera for panoramic photography. The technology is used by law enforcement agencies world-wide for crime scene investigation, vulnerability and threat assessments, post-blast investigations, police action inquiries, accident investigations and more.

In November 2010, following a Leica ScanStation C10 demonstration of a mock crime scene before city officials by Tony Grissim, Leica Geosystems’ Public Safety & Forensic Account Manager, the Police Department ordered the units which were delivered early this year.

The first to develop hands-on familiarity with the Leica ScanStation was Sergeant Darrell Whitfield, supervisor of the CPD’s Crime Scene Unit.  A Leica Geosystems-conducted training course for several CPD officers was scheduled for early April, but in February, when Chief Carroll learned that a Leica trainer would conduct staff training for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) which also had recently acquired a ScanStation, he arranged for Sergeant Whitfield to attend.
“We maintain a close relationship with the GBI,” Whitfield explained. “So I went to that training ahead of the others. Thank God I did, because not long after we had to put our ScanStation to serious, heavy use.”

Less than 24 hours before the April training class for the Chattanooga PD was scheduled to begin, Sergeant Whitfield and his CSI team deployed with the ScanStation to the scene of a  major crime and began scanning a very large scene involving roadways, buildings, interiors and surrounding homes. “A complex, very challenging forensic environment,” Whitfield explained. “Where we had previously required only five or six scans, we did twenty-two, ending up capturing an enormous amount of data.”

While the scanning was in progress that Sunday, Chief Carroll called Leica Geosystems’ Tony Grissim to postpone the training scheduled for that Monday. At that moment Leica Geosystems’ trainer Karen Hughes was already at the airport and could have cancelled her trip, but the company decided to send Hughes to Chattanooga anyway to assist the investigation.

“Karen arrived early Monday morning and was right there for us,” Whitfield said, “She stayed for a couple of days, helping with the post-scan office work. Leica took very good care of us, and it didn’t cost us a penny. Talk about standing behind a product. Leica’s treatment of us was the epitome of great customer service.”

“The product we got from those scans was just unbelievable,” said Carroll. “I was sitting there watching Karen and Darrell output images, and I’m just amazed at what I’m seeing. We’re looking at crime scenes like we’ve never looked at them before.”

Days later the County District Attorney used enlarged prints made from the scan images for an initial court presentation.
Since then Sergeant Whitfield and his team have continued to exploit the Leica ScanStation C10‘s remarkable capabilities. “Recently, the Sheriff’s Department requested our assistance with a CSI involving an officer-involved shooting. We did a scan using ballistic trajectory rods placed in the bullet holes, and when we returned to the office I was able to use the Leica software to model the rods in 3-D and extend those lines out at the exact angle of the bullets’ trajectories. And they showed right where the officer said he was. That’s powerful forensic evidence.”

For Chief Carroll, a veteran participant of many criminal court proceedings, the technology will have enormous impact:  “For years juries have been looking at photos and flat diagrams of crime scenes, and it’s all been one dimensional—you don’t see the bullet hole in the wall, for example. Now we have the capability of going to court and walking the jury through the crime scene in 3-D and they can see exactly where the bullet hole is, right there in the left wall.  So, no question, the Leica ScanStation is a game changer.”