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Tape measures and photos used to be the standard equipment for documenting any type of crime scene by law enforcement. But uneven ground and poor lighting posed challenges and affected the quality of results. It was also sometimes difficult to know what areas to focus on, and important evidence was often missed. 3D laser scanners don’t have the same limitations.

Unlike manual techniques, a 3D laser scanner captures millions of data points to create multiple 360-degree scans that can be combined to create a complete 3D view of a scene that can be revisited later in great detail. This allows detectives, prosecutors, and juries to see the scene of the crime exactly as it appeared when first captured.

“When I first started we used tape measures to establish a base line. Then we used a total station, but it has limitations inside,” says Lt. Mike Young of the US Kearney Police Department. Among his other duties, he is an accident and crime scene reconstructionist for his department.

Young and his department use the Faro Focus3D X 330 scanner and Faro Scene software to process the scans. Then they use Faro Reality software to create animation in 3D.

“You’re working with a vast amount of data, 9,000 points per second,” says Young. “And it can all be in color. You choose which. You can scan in complete darkness, but if you have daylight or lights on in a residence, it will scan in full, vivid colors just like you’re standing there.”

CSI Karen Livengood of the Orlando (FL) Police Department Crime Scene Unit uses a Leica ScanStation 3D laser scanner for homicides, traffic homicides and other crime investigations.

“Our scan data has been introduced and accepted as scientific evidence on two of our court cases,” Livengood says. “State attorneys have requested copies on several cases, including officer-involved shootings and a number of homicides, that are coming up for court.”

In addition to her agency’s scan data being accepted as evidence in court, the resulting imagery from Orlando PD’s Leica ScanStation has been extremely useful in cases, Livengood says. “Presentation in court has just been phenomenal, especially when it comes to bullet trajectories or skid marks for traffic homicides,” she says. “The data gets shown to defense attorneys, and they show it to clients. Sometimes, it changes the outcome of the case. If you can see it, to me, that right there pays for itself.”

According to policemag.com, the new technology allows officers to fully document a scene with fewer people and in less time than before, no matter the conditions. What used to take at least four people hours to complete can now be done in a fraction of the time by one person, Young says, although he prefers to use two officers. The setup is simpler and faster, and because of this many more areas can be covered, even if there are special requests for detailed scans. “It takes less than 10 minutes from the time I arrive on scene to the time I’m actually collecting data,” says Young.