New NIJ Report on 3D Crime Scene Scanning Devices Highlights Technology Advances, User Stories

August 2018 – The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) recently released an updated version of the Landscape Study on 3D Crime Scene Scanning Devices. The 2018 report expands on the original study that was published in 2016 with an 11-page addendum that highlights recent technology advances and new user stories.

“3D scanner manufacturers are attentive to the forensics market and are customizing scanners specifically for forensic applications,” the 2018 report notes. “Recent improvements include making devices more intuitive, reducing the need for human input, improving training support, and creating specific workflows for forensic applications. Manufacturers are now offering performance and functionality upgrades aimed at forensic departments’ needs, including faster scanning speeds, more points in the cloud, and better software support. Investigators are leveraging these improvements to collect improved evidence to support investigations and prosecution or defense.”

Among the new laser scanners highlighted in the report are the professional-grade Leica ScanStation PS50, which achieves long-distance scanning at a range of more than 1000 m and quickly covers large areas; the Leica BLK360 imaging laser scanner, which is a handheld, easy-to-use, entry-level device; and the Leica RTC360, which captures full scene scans plus HDR imagery in 1 minute and 26 seconds with real-time automatic registration.


Case studies illustrate how 3D laser scanning provides significant value to law enforcement in the criminal justice system. For example, one story shares how the Omaha Police Department used a Leica Geosystems 3D laser scanner to identify defect entry and defect exit holes in a room where a deadly shooting occurred and then calculate the deflection point to confirm bullet impact. This information was corroborated with eye witness testimony to achieve successful prosecution of the case. The department regularly uses Leica Geosystems laser scanners and Map360 software to relate evidence to scenes, create visualizations for juries, and relate testimony to evidence—all of which help move cases more efficiently through the courtroom.

Another case study highlights how the Texas Ranger Crime Scene Investigation Working Group used Leica PS40 laser scanners and BLK imaging scanners to document and present evidence on the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The Texas Rangers also used Leica Geosystems laser scanners to provide perspective on a separate case where a mother shot her daughter. In these and many other crime scene investigations, the Leica Geosystems laser scanners and software enable the creation of 2D and 3D scene representations that provide useful context for jurors.

Following the case studies is an overview of the advances in 3D scanning device technology, focusing on enhanced performance and functionality as well as user-friendliness.
The original 2016 report is included in the updated study and outlines the most critical factors that crime and crash scene investigators should consider when selecting scanning equipment for use at scenes. These factors effectively describe the features and benefits found in the Leica Geosystems ScanStation PS30, PS40 and PS50 laser scanners as well as the Leica RTC360 laser scanner. Read the complete overview here.

As with the original study, the updated landscape study is intended to serve as a valuable resource for “surveying commercially available 3D scanning instruments, understanding best practices for using 3D scanners, and making purchasing decisions.”

You can download the report with the 2018 update from the FTCoE website. To learn more about laser scanning solutions for public safety, please contact us.

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