Many agencies follow protocol for the deployment of laser scanner technology. For the Cincinnati Police Department, it’s the required instrument for complex or dynamic crime scenes as well as police-use-of-force investigations.
But investigators in the department’s Homicide Unit and Criminalistics Squad are also quick to utilize the technology—and human ingenuity—in nontraditional applications. “The criminalists that work here are kind of what makes this tool able to be optimized—their ability to think out of the box,” said Supervising Sgt. Mike Miller, of the Homicide Unit and Criminalistics Squad
An ingenious strategy
Last year, one creative scanning strategy yielded impressive results. It began late January 2015 following gunfire directed at the tallest building in downtown Cincinnati, the 41-story Great American Tower. Over multiple nights, the tower and the adjacent 303 Broadway building took several exterior hits between the seventh and 10th floors from an unknown origin, possibly from across the Ohio River in Kentucky.
Investigators needed to determine where the shots were coming from. Obviously, manually pulling strings from a skyscraper was out of the question. But Miller had an idea. He called one of his criminalists, Steven Alexander, to discuss the feasibility of using the Leica ScanStation to perform bullet-path reconstruction at extremely long range—both vertically and horizontally. “I think we can do it,” Alexander responded. “Let’s give it a try.”
The following morning, Alexander was on the scene. To trace the shots to their points of origin, he placed trajectory rods into the bullet impacts of the buildings. Back down at street level, he scanned the trajectory rods from long range in high resolution density. The buildings, roads and surrounding areas were scanned with medium resolution. “Essentially every 75 feet, we did a scan and worked our way out so that we could link them all back together and saturate the whole area,” said Criminalist Steven Alexander.
Because the Great American Tower is in proximity to Fort Washington Way, a 25-foot-below-grade artery connecting interstates 75 and 71, Alexander needed to capture data from the highway without impacting the flow of traffic. “It’s a pretty busy area, and it really kind of shuts down the city if you start closing down those lanes, so we did our best to keep things open,” Alexander said. “In fact, we did all of the scanning with the road open and semis rushing by at 60 miles per hour and our cars getting rocked back and forth from the air. But the scanner performed great and didn’t have any issue with it at all.”
While the scene presented a number of scanning challenges, including extreme distances, the building’s glass facade, and significant ground and wind vibration, the Leica ScanStation easily captured the needed data with scientific accuracy.
Designed to perform in harsh conditions, all ScanStations feature an onboard dual-axis compensator that constantly monitors, in real-time, both axes of the vertical axis tilt. If level issues arise during scanning—in this case, ground vibrations and gusts of air—the scanner automatically measures the tilt and applies the correction for a final survey-grade measurement. If the scanner becomes significantly out of level, it alerts the operator to take corrective action.
Additionally, the Cincinnati Police Department’s ScanStation C10 features long-range scanning capabilities—300 meters at 90 percent surface reflectivity, or albedo, to 134 meters at 18 percent—that enabled Alexander to measure over long distances. “The range Alexander was shooting—from the highway decking to the 10th floor—was probably close to one-eighth of a mile, and he had to deal with a glass building with reflecting light,” Miller said. “It was an overcast day, but he could still grab the rods with the scanner and accomplish his task.”
Trajectory analysis provides actionable information
After just a few hours at the scene, Alexander returned to the office to post-process the scan data. The four ScanWorlds were stitched together, or registered, in 10 minutes using Leica’s Cyclone software. Then he was ready to determine where the shots were coming from. “The initial thought was that it might’ve been somebody down on Third Street, which runs along the highway,” Alexander said. “Once we placed the rods in there and did just a quick analysis with the scanner, it was very obvious that it wasn’t going to be from Third Street. The angles just were way wrong.”
However, extending the rods with trajectory cones within Leica Cyclone showed that the shots were coming from Fort Washington Way. “It ended up being a vehicle that was traveling eastbound, and then we could even kind of break it down to a vehicle traveling eastbound that was taking the ramp to northbound 71,” Alexander said. “The scan data showed that very well.”
Armed with actionable information, the police department focused traffic cameras on that area. “Sure enough, the next night, we had another shooting,” Alexander said. “We were able to see the vehicle on that route eastbound taking the ramp to north 71, and we could see the multiple gunfire flashes coming out of the side of the vehicle right there on the cameras just like we had predicted.”
Making the impossible possible
Together, the team’s out-of-the-box strategy and cutting-edge technology opened up a world of new possibilities. “You couldn’t pull string to do trajectory work from a skyscraper back to a point of origin. It’s not possible,” Miller said. “But the Leica ScanStation does provide the opportunity to do just that. It’s kind of amazing.
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Update: On March 16, 2016, Rayshawn (aka Rayshaun) Herald was indicted in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati for possession of the firearm used in the Great American Tower shootings.The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network linked the shell casings and bullets recovered from the Great American Tower to the firearm Herald used in a May 2015 shooting for which he is currently serving a six-year prison sentence. Officials credit Herald’s conviction to a cooperative effort between the Cincinnati Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Taskforce, which manages the ballistic database; and the United States Attorney’s Office.