Building and enhancing trust between your law enforcement agency and the community you serve has never been more crucial. When every decision is scrutinized, every action challenged, and resources limited, you have to work harder to increase transparency and accountability.
Technology makes it easier.
The Value of a Point Cloud: Scene Documentation and Liability Protection
Agencies that use laser scanning have discovered that the value of clean, accurate point cloud data goes beyond scene documentation and reconstruction. The ability to capture every detail of a scene in minutes protects officers, criminalists, and investigators by keeping them out of harm’s way while enabling them to quickly document all the evidence and minimize cognitive bias in documenting and sharing the physical evidence. The resulting digital twin becomes the primary source of irrefutable physical evidence that is used to answer questions, challenge assumptions, show different viewpoints, and create compelling and immersive visualizations that are scientifically accurate.
These capabilities aren’t new. But unlike in the past, when laser scanners were primarily deployed on homicides, officer-involved shootings, and other major incidents, a significant shift is taking place. As professional-grade technology has become more affordable and easier to use, police chiefs and other decision makers are increasingly making the strategic decision to deploy laser scanners to a broader range of felony crime scenes and preliminary supervisor use of force investigations. In fact, the benefits of having accurate point cloud data to enhance transparency and accountability are so compelling that today’s law enforcement best practice is to scan everything.
“Laser scanning has become so fast and easy that there are no more barriers,” says Ken Jones, a retired criminalist for the Portland Police Bureau. “Even the backend data processing is much easier and faster. If you’re deploying a laser scanner in every situation, you now have three-dimensional data that will quantify and add clarity to the scene for citizen review boards and the community served. It’s built-in liability protection that allows for vested parties to rapidly interpret statements from involved parties through the lens of a digital twin of the scanned physical evidence and overall scene.”
The Technology Advantage: Capture More Details with Fewer Resources
Jones, who now focuses on training and supporting public safety agencies in technology implementation as a customer success manager for Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, has seen firsthand how valuable accurate point cloud data from a laser scanner can be. He’s also experienced the challenge of trying to tell a complete, unbiased story on a use-of-force shooting without a point cloud.
He notes that today’s agencies face significant issues with staff turnover and recruitment, making thorough scene documentation increasingly challenging—there simply aren’t enough skilled, knowledgeable people to hold the scene and document all the evidence. But technology is filling some of those gaps.
“So much of laser scanning now is automated; very little training is required,” he says. “You just push a button, verify the data on your mobile device, push it up to the cloud, and move on.”
The most widely accepted laser scanners in law enforcement can complete a full scan with HDR imagery in less than two minutes per setup while pre-registering the data. Newer handheld imaging laser scanners can capture demonstrative data of a scene as you walk; and the latest imaging laser scanners combine affordability, ease of use, a compact size, fast scanning speeds, data pre-registration and HDR imagery for a utilitarian approach.
Back in the office, you can easily combine that data with video and photos to obtain accurate measurements and view the scene from different angles to tell the story in a way that wouldn’t be possible with the video and photos alone.
“It’s like having a bazillion little nails,” Jones says. “The more nails you’re able to put in the top of the coffin, the more believable that statement from a witness becomes. Minor details may not matter until you cumulatively put them all together, and then the one pin hinge statement is more relevant because all the other details are consistent and aligned, with the laser scanned point cloud data as the definitive source of truth.”
The New Standard: Scan Everything
The point cloud can be used to create everything from simple 2D diagrams all the way to immersive 3D animations and virtual reality exhibits—but only if it’s accurate from the point of capture. While point clouds captured with an iPhone or generated from drone orthophotos are growing in popularity, they will typically require other forms of verification.
Reputable laser scanners capture data that can stand on its own. And they’re easier than ever for agencies to implement as a standard part of every scene documentation toolkit.
“The true way people understand and remember facts related to a physical piece of evidence is knowing where it is in the scene,” says Jones. “If you do it right from the outset and attach the information to an accurate three-dimensional point in space, you can tell the story in a way that is compelling and irrefutable.
“Photos have been the standard scene documentation approach for decades,” he adds. “Now we have video everywhere, but it’s always from a single viewpoint. Laser scanning can diminish or remove single-source bias and adds transparency and accountability to any investigation. It just makes sense that agencies would want to scan everything to have that record.”
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