Albany Police Forensic Scan Team Receives Prestigious Award
The Albany Police Department’s Forensic Scan Team received the Albany County STOP-DWI George L. Infante Unit Citation Award on Dec. 13, 2013. The award recognizes the team’s role in deterring impaired driving in New York. “Our mission is to remove the impaired driver off the roadways,” said Kerry Thompson, Chief Deputy of the Albany County Sherriff’s Office and STOP-DWI administrator. “We thought it was important to recognize these guys because they are out there preparing criminal cases, many times for bad crashes, related to DWI or impaired driving with drugs.”
The selection committee for STOP-DWI, or Special Traffic Options Program for Driving While Intoxicated, chose the Forensic Scan Team for its unique approach to investigating and reconstructing crash and crime scenes utilizing both traffic investigators and forensic detectives along with the most innovative and technologically advanced equipment in use by any police department in New York. The award also recognizes the hundreds of hours of training the scan team members have completed in crash investigation and reconstruction, technical data recovery and forensic investigation.
“I was impressed that the selection committee considered us and am honored that they’ve chosen us,” said Detective Victor Pizzola, of the Forensic Investigations Unit. “This award is a nice pin for the Albany Police Department.”
Team Evolves with the Technology
Over the last four years, the team’s multidisciplinary approach and its progressive use of technology has played an increasingly key role in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, including those related to impaired driving.
The team has really taken off since 2009, Pizzola said, when a new administration brought Pizzola on board and tasked him with fully implementing the department’s technology. “We had, back then, just a total station,” he said, “and it was underutilized.” At that time, the team, which was called the Total Station Team, comprised about a half-dozen Traffic Safety Division members who were deployed to major crash scenes involving serious physical injury or death. The team eventually expanded to encompass forensic detectives for the documentation of homicides and shootings. “Ultimately, a few years later,” Pizzola said, “we ended up going all in and getting a scanner.”
The decision to progress from total station to 3D laser scanner was easy once the administration saw it in action on a year-old homicide scene that the Total Station Team was mapping in preparation for trial. Leica Geosystems’ Public Safety Account Manager-East, Frank Hahnel, flew in, scanned the scene and entered the data into 3D visualization software. The final product, which was presented in court, impressed the attorneys and captivated the jury. “As a department, we recognized this was the wave of the future,” Pizzola said. “This is where we needed to go.”
In late December 2012, the Albany Police took delivery on a Leica ScanStation PS5, which was later upgraded to a Leica ScanStation PS10, and by early January 2013, the renamed Forensic Scan Team was trained and in action. The team has grown to 16 members comprising four forensic detectives; nine traffic safety investigators, most of which are crash reconstructionists; and three administrators, including two lieutenants and a sergeant.
Pizzola runs its day-to-day operations. The chief determines when to call in the Forensic Scan Team, and Pizzola assembles and deploys the appropriate mix of team members from their respective disciplines. “That’s pretty much our policy today as it was back then with the total station,” Pizzola said. “But now, it‘s just so much more effective with the scanner.”
First to Use Laser Scanning in Forensic and Traffic Investigation
“We are the first agency in the state outside of New York City to have this technology,” Pizzola said, “and [the first] that are currently using this technology for the forensic and crash sides.”
The transition from total station to laser scanner has made a significant impact on the team’s productivity and performance. “It’s more than cut it [the time to process a scene] in half, and we’re getting so much more data,” Pizzola said. “It’s almost comparing apples to oranges.”
Pizzola explains: “If our neighbor agency has got a crash with a death, they’re using a total station gun and shooting 60 or 70 points of data in four, five or six hours. We are in there in two hours and capturing 49 million points of data. Then almost immediately, within the same day, we’re able to produce a final product ready to go to court. The other agencies, it may take weeks to months.”
Pizzola remembers those days. Before the purchase of the laser scanner, it used to take the Total Station Team months to complete a reconstruction report and diagram. Then when it came time to go to trial, the district attorneys would request revisions for courtroom presentation purposes. “So you ended up having to change everything around,” Pizzola said. “Now the data is the data. This is what you give them. They use TruView [3D visualization software]. They introduce it to the jury, and the jurors love being able to visualize the scene.”
In less than 11 months, the Albany Police Forensic Scan Team has deployed its new laser scanner 15 times to homicide and death-related accident scenes with impressive results. “The scanner technology today—what it captures, what it can do, the product it puts out in a short period of time—is amazing,” Pizzola said.
Crime-Fighting Awards Are Too Rare
Frank Hahnel of Leica Geosystems is pleased that the Forensic Scan Team has been recognized by Albany County STOP-DWI program and honored with the George L. Infante Unit Citation Award.
“Awards to police departments unfortunately don’t come very often,” Hahnel said. “It’s just the nature of the beast. Everybody expects that this is your job, and you’re just supposed to do it.
“For the Albany Police Forensic Scan Team to get this award within less than a year of receiving their equipment is outstanding.” Go here to learn more about using laser scanners for crash investigation, or contact us to find out how 3D laser scanning can benefit your agency. Photo: Awards Ceremony About the author:Wendy Lyons is journalist living in Canton, Georgia, who spent several years writing about surveying technology for POB magazine. She now focuses on covering laser scanning and other geospatial measurement solutions for public safety professionals.