When an officer invited Ken Jones on a ride-along during his freshman year at Portland State University, the aspiring engineer had no idea how it would change his life. Ken, a self-described people person, not only enjoyed the experience but also came to a very important realization. “When I saw the officer engaging with people in the community,” he says, “I recognized that working with pencils and mathematical formulas was not going to satisfy my need to interact with people.”
Ken quickly changed his career path. A year later, he was a reserve officer for the City of Portland. When Ken was hired by the Portland Police Bureau the following year, the avid photographer set his sights on forensics. After just six years of street patrol, Ken was promoted to the rank of criminalist and was assigned to the Forensic Evidence Division where he remained until retirement in 2016. “I truly enjoyed my career working in, what we termed, the Deadend Division,” Ken says with a laugh.
Change is good
During his years at the Portland Police Bureau, Ken developed a reputation for innovation in technique and technology. “I think it’s important that we actually try to innovate and change the system—to ask ourselves why we’re structured a certain way or how we can do something better,” Ken says. “It’s good to see innovation changes occur because we’re delivering better quality work.”
The first change Ken brought to the forensic unit was ambient-light photography. “Back in the ’90s,” he explains, “we were still using manual film cameras and not really obtaining, as a collective forensic unit, the best nighttime photographs.” So Ken simply began deploying his personal top-of-the-line Nikon F5. Before long, colleagues took notice. “People saw that my nighttime photographs, which were taken with automatic exposures, were capturing more detail—and capturing it faster,” he says. “As a result, the entire division was updated to newer camera technology.”
Ken later innovated a photographic technique for viewing trajectory lines in crime scene images. While painting or walking a laser line requires dark conditions, Ken’s method—a combination of lasers, photography and Adobe Photoshop software—captures laser locations in any lighting. “The technique is faster than painting with light or fogging and provides a known reference elevation for the target location of the laser in the documentation image set,” he explains. Ken not only introduced the method to Portland but also taught it to Mexican investigators through the Conference of Western Attorneys General Alliance Partnership. “When agencies don’t have funding for state-of-the-art technology,” he explains, “this technique is very successful in presenting the elevation view of a trajectory with contextual scene information.”
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
As Ken developed his skills in Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA), he began to apply the science to non-homicide cases, which was rarely done previously. One of those cases involved an aggravated robbery in which Ken’s impact-spatter and cast-off analysis was pivotal at trial. “I demonstrated multiple strikes in three different locations within the scene and refuted the suspect’s testimony that he only hit the lady to knock her out ‘like he saw on television’ to make his escape,” he explains. As a result, the defendant was sentenced to 17 years in prison. “This was a case example of how proper documentation, preservation of BPA scene evidence and a full crime scene reconstruction was instrumental in gaining a conviction for aggravated attempted murder versus simple robbery and assault,” he says.
The last and most scientifically significant innovation Ken brought to the Portland Police Bureau was forensic scanning. Previously in Portland, diagramming was assigned to detectives, but their hand tape measurements weren’t providing the data Ken needed for 3D analysis of space for BPA. “They gave me a 2D flat layout a room,” he says, “but I was trying to go into much greater detail while trying to create areas of origin of impact spatter bloodstains. The same thing applied to trajectory work.” Ken, who'd had his eye on laser scanning for several years, proposed the technology to his captain in 2010, and as a team, they secured grant funding in 2011. The bureau took delivery of a Leica ScanStation C10 in 2012. “From then on,” Ken says, “I was the ScanStation administrator and pushed forward with scanning.”
A rewarding vocation
Looking back over his 26-year career, Ken is most satisfied with the forensic innovations he contributed to his hometown. But his greatest reward was gained more than 7,000 miles away thanks to a rare partnership between the Portland Police Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ken explains: “The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh recognized that the Bengali police resorted to striking people with a lathi (baton) to get them to move around. It wasn’t very courteous, and it reinforced the people’s view that the police were a force unit empowering the political system in charge, not caretakers to help the community or improve livability.”
So the ambassador requested training for the national police under the DOJ’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program. “Since we specialize in community policing here in Portland,” Ken says, “the ambassador sought our help to plant seeds of change in that beautiful country.”
Over a course of three years, Ken and more than 100 Portland Police Bureau colleagues served month-long rotations in western Bangladesh delivering, what he terms, human-value training to their foreign counterparts. “As police officers, we would go in and teach defensive tactics techniques, criminal investigation techniques, and present the concept of community policing,” Ken says. “Teaching the Bengali police how to secure crime scenes by using control holds to move people instead of swinging their lathis was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
A cop teaching cops
Today, Ken enjoys supporting forensic innovation on a national level. As the training manager for the Public Safety Group, he travels the country teaching Leica Geosystems’ law enforcement customers how to use their new ScanStations. “I’m covering basic operation of the hardware to the creation of 3D visualizations in software,” he says. “But the most critical experience I’m delivering is how to integrate this technology into the forensic workflow.”
With 20 years as a criminalist, Ken has worked thousands of scenes. He knows both the practicalities and challenges Leica’s law enforcement customers face on a daily basis. “I’m often told how valuable it is that I understand the flow of forensics at a crime scene, the politics involved, the challenges of personnel shortages and the need to work more efficiently,” Ken says. “Rapid scanning techniques are critical to reducing on-scene capture time.”
As Portland’s Leica administrator for four years, Ken teaches not only how to integrate the scanner into the workflow but also how to deploy it with confidence. “I’m not just saying, ‘Here’s a surveying instrument, and this is how you use it.’ I’m also able to say, ‘Here’s a shortcut I found most useful,’ or ‘Detectives are going to want to get this out of this technology, and here’s the way to do it faster,’” Ken explains.
Ken knows lives and careers depend on high-quality forensic data and the ability to communicate a complicated scene quickly and clearly. “Having been the primary officer in a deadly force event in 1994,” he explains, “my training is focused on equipping crime scene investigators to objectively document scenes and then use every scene to prepare for major cases where officers have had to use deadly force.”
Change has been good for Ken. Even though he misses the camaraderie, the investigative teamwork and simply ‘palling around’ with longtime colleagues at the Portland Police Bureau, Ken finds great satisfaction in building new relationships and advancing forensic innovation on a national level. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and it’s pretty much a full-time teaching gig going around the country doing something I’m passionate about,” Ken says. “In short, I’m trying to make sure the United States is getting the best possible training in forensic laser scanning.”
Interesting Data Points:
- Speaks fluent Spanish.
- Youngest of seven children.
- Developed a love of photography from his brothers. By the age of 8, he was using a professional-level Nikon F2 camera, loading his own film, and developing black-and-white film in the family’s darkroom.
- Performed regional Mexican folk dances in Mexico as a high school student ambassador for the City of Portland.
- Founder and 14-year pipe major of the Portland Police Highland Guard pipe band.
- Not keen on watching sports. It would be “torturous” for Ken to sit down and watch a football game on TV.
- Enjoys international music and travel, kayaking, scuba diving and underwater photography.
- Married 17 years to a 911 emergency dispatcher and the proud father of one “absolutely beautiful” daughter.
- Adjunct professor of crime scene photography in Portland Community College’s criminal justice program.
- When asked how a close friend might describe him in one word, Ken says, “Patient—like a spider. I have a lot of patience.”