The High Cost of the Wrong Scene Documentation Approach

Maximizing your agency’s efficiency, transparency and effectiveness requires reframing the question around technology investments.

“How much does it cost?”

If you oversee budgets and operations for a law enforcement agency, this is probably one of the first questions you ask when you come across an intriguing new technology. With agency spending under increasing scrutiny, it’s a valid inquiry. But all too often the research ends there, and crucial follow-up questions remain unasked and unconsidered.

  • How many homicide scenes does our team work every year?
  • In our standard call-out procedure, how many people are required to respond to every scene?
  • How much time do they spend at the scene collecting evidence, taking measurements and photos, and conducting a thorough investigation?
  • How concerned am I for their safety every time they’re on a scene?

Although violent crimes across the U.S. have fallen steeply since the 1990s,* crime rates vary widely from state to state and city to city. Recruitment and retention remain significant challenges in every agency, exacerbated by the current climate of increased media scrutiny and reduced public support. As a result, overtime spending in many regions is at an all-time high, and safety has never been more critical.

When considering a new technology or a new approach to scene documentation, your primary question should be:

“How much is it costing us to continue using our current methods?”

Proven Advantages of Digital Scene Documentation

With digital scene documentation technology, agencies have reduced the number of staff responding to a scene and the amount of time spent on that scene by 50 percent or more. They are able to respond more quickly and effectively to challenging situations such as active shooter investigations, use-of-force shootings and mass shootings. They are keeping staff out of harm’s way by giving them the tools to capture every detail of the scene from a distance – out of roadways and away from danger. Minimizing the number of people on scene and the amount of time they spend on scene also improves safety.

Further, the ability to revisit the scene virtually with accurate, comprehensive data provides a path to increase clearance rates, while 3D visualizations along with clear records of accuracy improve operational transparency. Continued technology advances open new doors for improved school safety and transformative collision investigation methods. The benefits are impressive and well documented, with a growing number of agencies moving to digitalization.

Reframing the Cost Question

Considering technology investments from a different cost perspective can provide new insight on improving overall operations.

For example, one agency that typically requires a team of four to respond to 24 to 30 traffic homicides each year estimated they were spending more than $100,000 per year on overtime. They determined that moving from manual total stations to high-speed laser scanning with a Leica RTC360 would enable them to reduce their response teams to two people—one scanning operator and one safety officer—while cutting the amount of time it takes them to process scenes by at least two-thirds.

Digital scene documentation gives them a chance to improve the perception of their entire agency in the eyes of the public as well as their existing staff and potential new recruits.

The technology would substantially reduce overtime while giving them a much more efficient, accurate way to document, with ultimately more value when a case goes to court. And because the scanner is easy to learn and easy to use, they would experience the safety and efficiency benefits immediately—with the potential to see additional benefits through the adoption of a fully digital workflow.

Digital scene documentation gives them a chance to improve the perception of their entire agency in the eyes of the public as well as their existing staff and potential new recruits.

Other agencies have been able to achieve reductions in time on scene by moving from older laser scanners to the newest high-speed technology. And still others have been able to apply laser scanning more consistently by moving from a scanning technology their staff found too complex—and often left behind—to high-speed, easy-to-use technology that requires minimal training. Advances such as handheld mobile lidar, in-picture 3D measurement, GNSS with visual positioning, and intuitive and powerful scene diagramming software open even more opportunities for forward-thinking agencies.

When considering technology, the question of cost is important. Just make sure it’s the right question. Your agency is too important to get it wrong.

Connect with Me

Interested in knowing more about how I dealt with technology investments and budget issues when I was an administrator? I’d be happy to share some of my experiences with you. Message me here to request a consultation.

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