Laser Scanner Passes Test and Continues to Earn High Marks

Karen Livengood has documented hundreds of scenes over her 17-year career with the Orlando Police Department Crime Scene Unit—the majority by hand. She’s even had her hand in the creation of several mock crime scenes used as final exams for local high school forensic science programs.

When tasked with researching 3D laser scanning technology for her unit, the crime scene investigator put the scanners, along with the students, to the test. She instructed the sales representatives, including a rep from Leica Geosystems, to scan a mock scene and show her the end results. “I wanted to see how the scanner would perform in a true-to-life scene,” she explained. “I don’t like buying anything I cannot see work.”

The Leica ScanStation passed the test. The Leica Geosystems rep scanned the scene, registered the data right in front of her, and immediately created a Leica TruView 3D visualization. Additionally, he provided Daubert rulings and case numbers to prove the ScanStation’s track record in U.S. court. “Leica had all of its t’s crossed and i’s dotted,” Livengood said. Four years after deployment, the Leica ScanStation continues to earn high marks. “It’s been ideal in every single case,” Livengood said.

Forensic Scanning increases unit’s efficiency

Since transitioning from hand diagramming to forensic scanning in 2011, Livengood has seen the Crime Scene Unit’s accuracy and thoroughness improve significantly. “The accuracy of measurements has been so much better,” Livengood said. “Being able to incorporate the diagram, the overall picture of the scene, for court, and to go back in and take extra measurements if need be—all of that has completely changed. We’re definitely more efficient.”

Increased efficiency quickly pays off in a fast-growing, high-tourism city like Orlando, Fla., where, in addition to scanning homicides, shootings and officer-involved shootings, the unit often scans crash scenes for the department’s Traffic Homicide Unit. It also supports multiple neighboring law enforcement agencies as part of the Joint Homicide Investigative Team, or J.H.I.T. “If there’s a homicide in any of those jurisdictions, we go and assist their crime scene personnel,” Livengood said.

Laser scanner proves its merit in real-life test

The laser scanner’s ability to comprehensively capture scenes with millimeter accuracy is especially valuable when firearms are involved. “It’s hard to do reconstruction on shooting cases by hand,” Livengood said.

In fact, the laser scanner proved its merit on the first case ever scanned by the Orlando Police Department. In November 2009, a male with a handgun went on a shooting rampage at his former place of employment on the 8th floor of the Gateway Center in downtown Orlando. He killed one person and wounded several others before fleeing.

When Livengood and her team arrived, they were met with an extensive and complex scene. The building was octagonal, and the office space, which comprised the entire floor, was subdivided by cubicles. “There were at least 50 different cubicles in different directions,” she explained. “The shooting was done in multiple shots through the cubicles and the people and the walls.”

Livengood, who was in charge of diagramming that case, knew it would take at least a week to document the scene by hand. She was also concerned about the possibility of missing a critical perspective due to the scale and complexity of the crime scene and the extended time it would take to diagram it and then collect evidence. The laser scanner, she knew, would capture everything with millimeter accuracy in a matter of days. The only problem was that her unit was months away from taking delivery of the Leica ScanStation.

So Livengood called her local Leica Geosystems’ sales representative for assistance. “He came in and scanned the scene for us. It took him two days and 47 scans to do it,” Livengood said. “There’s no way that we could have diagrammed all of that by hand, but the ScanStation captured everything.”

Scan data delivers powerful results

Back at the police department, the Leica Geosystems rep assisted the Crime Scene Unit in the post-processing of the scan data. The 47 individual scans were united, or registered, in less than one day via a cloud-to-cloud routine in Leica Cyclone 3D point-cloud processing software. Cyclone was also used to create trajectory cones for bullet path reconstruction—a feature Livengood has found to be extraordinarily valuable. “The ability to  go in and do your trajectory after the fact—that is awesome,” she said.

Finally, the rep worked with the unit to create a variety of court exhibits, including several iterations of 3D flythroughs of the scene, which he presented during testimony in court. “The flythrough showed exactly where the fired cartridge casings landed as the shooter was walking through the building,” Livengood said. “It was phenomenal.”

The Leica ScanStation not only passed the test but also proved its value. In about the time it would have taken Livengood to document the scene by hand, the Crime Scene Unit was able to comprehensively scan the scene, post-process the data, and deliver powerful courtroom-ready exhibits to the district prosecutor’s office.

The new standard

Today, with four years of experience laser scanning crime and crash scenes for the Orlando Police Department, Livengood is confident that the high-definition 3D laser scanner will soon become standard equipment for scene documentation. “Every agency is going to have a scanner one way or another. I can’t see it not being that way,” Livengood said.

“I believe wholeheartedly in the Leica ScanStation system. I am one of its biggest fans.”

For more information on how to improve your crime and crash scene documentation, please contact us.


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