RTC360 laser scanner at crime scene

Coverdell Grant Helps KC Crime Lab Secure Best-in-Class Laser Scanning Technology

As a crime scene supervisor for the ANAB-accredited Kansas City Police Crime Lab, Jeremy Chappell knows that reliable forensic science testing and analysis requires scientific-grade instrumentation. That’s why, more than a decade ago, when Chappell wanted to transition the Crime Scene Section from hand-measurements to 3D digital documentation, he set his sights on a survey-grade laser scanner. 

In 2018, Chappell’s persistence finally paid off when he received permission to pursue an NIJ Coverdell grant. Up until then, the Crime Scene Section had only piggybacked on applications written by other departments; this would be the first time the section had to lead its own grant project. Chappell admits there was some trepidation all around. But thanks to expert advice from seasoned Coverdell grant winners within the lab and assistance from grants managers down at police headquarters, Chappell put together an award-winning application. 

Expert Advice Leads to Compelling Grant Application

Looking back, Chappell says three pieces of advice were key to his success. 

First, it’s necessary to read the solicitation from front to back. “It’s not fun,” he says. “But you have to read that entire thing to make sure you address everything in there.” Some applicants are tempted to freestyle their narrative, but Chappell cautions against it. “The award process is like a point system,” he says. “There are boxes you have to check, and if you don’t check those boxes, you don’t get those points and your application doesn’t get ranked as high.”

Second, it’s essential to clearly articulate the need for the technology and the impact it’s going to have on your work. In his application, Chappell explained that Kansas City consistently ranks in the nation’s top 10 cities for violent crime per-capita. In 2019 alone, his section worked on almost 150 homicides. The scanner would be used to document violent crime scenes, homicides, and police shootings. With a homicide nearly every other day, not only would the scanner be used frequently but also its 3D documentation would significantly improve the usefulness of their work products. “Detailing all of that is important,” he says. “You really need to emphasize the need and the impact that you think that the equipment is going to have. If you can’t articulate those well, you’re going to be putting yourself at a disadvantage.” 

Third, it’s important to put together a packet that’s both easy to read and follow. While Chappell had focused on creating a strong narrative, he hadn’t optimized its structure. Chappell turned to writers at PoliceGrantsHelp for assistance. “The feedback I received from PoliceGrantsHelp was invaluable,” he says. They advised Chappell to reorganize his narrative to match that of the solicitation. “If you follow the same format,” he explains, “it’s easier for the reviewers to check and see that you’ve addressed all the different things that you’re supposed to address in the solicitation.” 

Peer-Review Opportunity Increases Confidence

Later that summer, Chappell had the unexpected opportunity to peer-review applications for other Coverdell grants. The experience helped him better appreciate PoliceGrantsHelp’s formatting feedback. “As a reviewer, trying to go back and check those boxes and make sure that everything was addressed that needed to be addressed was definitely more of a challenge with some of those grants,” he says. “And you never want to make it difficult on the people that are reviewing your application.” Chappell was glad he’d heeded the advice. “I definitely felt more confident about my chances,” he says.

Coverdell Approves Grant Adjustment for Easy-to-Use RTC360

Chappell’s instincts proved correct, but there was a hitch: The grant was for the purchase of a Leica ScanStation PS40 3D laser scanner and a Leica BLK360 imaging scanner. However, after submitting his grant application, a new reality capture solution came to market—the Leica RTC360. Easy to use, agile and accurate, the RTC360 captures 2 million data points per second, completes scans in less than two minutes, and automatically unites point cloud data in real-time. Chappell decided that the simplicity of the RTC360 would be a better fit than the more complex PS40. He filed a grant adjustment notice, and Coverdell approved his request. 

Scanner Undergoes Strict Validation Process Before Deployment

As part of an ANAB-accredited lab, the new RTC360 and BLK360 couldn’t be immediately deployed for casework. “We have to put them through a validation process and make sure that they work in the way that they’re intended to, that they work in the way that they’re designed to, and that we can assure that the people who are going to be operating the equipment are properly trained.” 

Once the RTC360 and the BLK360 are signed off for casework, the scanners will be required for all homicides and police-involved shootings. “Being able to document those in 3D is really important,” Chappell says. For years, they’ve been using hand-held instruments and producing basic 2D top-down diagrams. “It will be a lot more helpful when we have that third dimension to see this stuff in 3D space, especially with bloodstain pattern analysis cases and shooting reconstruction cases. In our city and in pretty much every other big city, the vast majority of violent crimes are shootings,” he says. “So that’s going to be big for us.”

Advanced 3D Documentation Capability Makes Scanner Worth the Wait

All in all, it’s been a long wait for Chappell—but patience does have its benefits. “Even though I would’ve liked to have gotten laser scanning technology back in 2007,” he says, “I do think that the timing was actually really good on our part to get into the game when we did because the learning curve is a lot lower now. As far as the software goes, REGISTER 360 is a lot easier to learn than Cyclone, and the RTC360 and the BLK360 are both super simple to learn.”

As a crime scene supervisor, Chappell spends most of his time on administration. But he made sure to be one of the first to deploy the scanners on scene. “I’ve been wanting to get a laser scanner for 13 years, and now that we finally got it, I’m definitely going to be using it,” Chappell says. “It’s exciting to be moving into the 21st century.” 

To talk to a public safety expert who can guide you on how to fund the technology that will help your agency maximize efficiency and effectiveness, please contact us.

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