In CSI Work, Laser Scanning Technology Pays Off in More Ways Than One
Shortly after Ryan Rezzelle, MFS, CSCSA, came on board as supervisor of the CSI section of the Johnson County Criminalistics Laboratory in 2008, he was tasked with researching technologies for crime scene documentation. Rezzelle performed an across-the-board platform comparison of the different technologies available, and in 2010, when there was room in the budget, lab officials were ready to make an informed decision.
“We identified that of all the technologies that were out there,” Rezzelle said, “we were most pleased with the Leica ScanStation C10” (equivalent to the Leica ScanStation PS10). The overall general capabilities were superior to other options, he explained, citing accuracy, speed, distance, reliability, the eye-safe laser, and ease of use.
Rezzelle said the ScanStation has “unquestionably” paid for itself since its deployment in 2011. But return on investment, he believes, is not merely a function of dollars and cents. “It would be difficult to quantify 100 percent of the dollar amount that we’ve taken in as value from having a scanner,” Rezzelle said. “It’s the more esoteric aspects, I feel, that have paid for it already—beyond doing an accounting expedition to figure out what the actual dollars and cents are.”
Transitioning from tape measure to state-of-the-art 3D laser scanner represents a quantum leap in the collection of spatial data. CSIs no longer spend hours laboriously collecting a limited amount of data. At the push of a button, they quickly, comprehensively and permanently capture millions of data points with 0.25-inch accuracy. And as one of the first Sheriff’s Office crime labs to have its CSI section accredited under the ASCLD/LAB-International program, the verifiable accuracy afforded by the ScanStation is of utmost value. “The return on investment was there the moment we started using it in casework,” Rezzelle said, “because the level of science that we’re applying in our measurements—in our collection of spatial data—went from kind of caveman to astronaut, if you would.”
With laser scanning technology, the CSI team can capture the pristine scene and quickly generate a vivid, interactive 3D panoramic image using Leica TruView. This free Internet-based visualization software features a 360-degree panoramic view that enables investigators to take in the scene from various perspectives. The day after an incident, Rezzelle said, the team can “walk all the detectives through the crime scene without having to walk the detectives through the crime scene.” In forensic science, he explains, contamination and cross-contamination are the two biggest enemies of sound evidence. “We need to keep our evidence pristine, and if we have to bring a battery of detectives through a scene just so they can get a feel for the scope of it, we are risking contamination and cross-contamination,” he said. “By scanning the crime scene, we can bring the scene to them.”
In addition to yielding increased data-collection and processing efficiency—both of which save time and money—the ScanStation becomes more economical with use. The CSI section processes a wide variety of incidents, including death investigations, vehicular accidents, fires, assaults, robberies and burglaries, for 19 law enforcement agencies. Each time the CSI team deploys the laser scanner in service of Johnson County, Rezzelle explains, the per-use cost of the equipment is reduced. “It was our purchase price divided by one the first time we used it,” he said. “Now that we’ve used it 200 times, it’s the purchase price divided by 200. So the more we use it, the more economical having that scanner becomes.”
High-definition 3D laser scanning technology is state-of-the-art, but operating at this level of sophistication is not showboating, according to Rezzelle. “It really will become the standard before too long,” he said. And when high-definition 3D laser scanning technology inevitably becomes standard equipment for crime scene investigation across the country, the Johnson County Criminalistics Laboratory—and the citizens it serves—will have already reaped years of reward. “The return on investment is here because we are prepared for what will become the future for most everybody else,” Rezzelle said. “We are working from a place of preparedness.”
For more information about high-definition 3D laser scanning solutions for law enforcement and crime scene investigation, please contact us. 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.