Smart Crime Solving with 3D Laser Scanning and Forensic Video Technologies

Who did it, where and with what weapon? These are the basic questions that must be definitively answered on every crime scene.

Historically, law enforcement agencies, crime scene investigators and forensic scientists have struggled to collect and piece together the evidence to resolve these mysteries. Even with the most painstaking documentation processes, critical details can easily be overlooked. Time is of the essence, and CSIs only get one shot at recording irrefutable crime scene evidence. Fortunately, technology advances are providing ways to capture the smallest of details quickly and return to the scene virtually as often as needed to irrefutably solve more crimes.

Chief among these innovative advances is 3D laser scanning, a tool that accurately records millions of measurements along with panoramic photography. Because 3D laser scanners, like the Leica ScanStation PS20, PS10 and PS5 from Leica Geosystems, measure everything within their line of sight, not just what an investigator believes to be important on a controlled crime scene, they provide an invaluable way to accurately reconstruct the scene for continued analysis long after the crime scene tape has been removed.

HxGN News Podcast
Listen to the HxGN News podcast interview with Michael Haag to learn how he uses laser scanning in shooting reconstruction including behind-the-scenes details from the reconstruction of the JFK assassination.

Michael Haag is a private consultant and forensic scientist with a major law enforcement agency, where he supervises the firearm and tool mark, chemistry and blood/breath alcohol sections and is a member of the major crime scene team. He has been active in the field of forensics for nearly 20 years and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. While his primary area of expertise is shooting incident reconstruction, he is also a firearm and tool mark examiner. Mike is a distinguished member of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE) and a past Member of the Year. He also is one of a few in the field to hold AFTE certifications in all three areas offered – firearm examination and identification, tool mark examination and identification, and gunshot residue/distance determination. Through his company, Forensic Science Consultants, Mike teaches shooting incident reconstruction courses throughout the United States and around the world. Michael Haag, supervisor of the physical identification unit for a major southwestern law enforcement agency and an independent forensic science consultant, has been using 3D laser scanning technology from Leica Geosystems for nearly a decade to reconstruct shooting incidents. He believes the ability to create an accurate three-dimensional representation of the scene is invaluable. “It’s critical in [answering questions in]an investigation,” Haag says.

Combined with powerful software such as Leica Cyclone for bullet path reconstruction, Leica TruView for generating vivid 3D panoramic images of the scene and MapScenes Forensic CAD for reconstructing, animating and presenting compelling simulations, 3D laser scanning technology is reshaping the way investigators handle crime scenes.

Recently, Haag was part of a group of experts who used 3D laser scanning (specifically the Leica ScanStation PS20) and other modern tools to explore lingering questions surrounding the 1963 assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy for the PBS Nova documentary “Cold Case JFK.”

Gene Grindstaff, executive manager at Intergraph and the chief engineer behind Video Analyst, Intergraph’s industry-leading software for forensic video enhancement, says the ability to use 3D laser scanning has had a tremendous impact on crime scene investigations. The next step, he says, is to combine the scan models with video to get an even clearer picture.

“That’s the big thDealey Plazaing that is happening right now – to combine video with the scan models and to be able to do accurate measurements from that. It’s really a form of photogrammetry,” he explains. “All the computer tracking and procedural methods are a huge help to being able to show that the steps in solving the crime are repeatable and accurate, and that the chain of evidence can be traced.”

It’s a significant improvement from 50 years ago, when primary crime scene tools included theodolites, tape measures and black and white film cameras. With modern 3D laser scanning and video enhancement technology, agencies are able to work much faster, more effectively and more accurately, which helps them solve more crimes.

“Now we have the ability to reconstruct the scene virtually and get all kinds of angles and views that wouldn’t be possible without the technology,” Grindstaff says. “That’s made a huge difference on crime scenes and in the courtroom.”

Using geospatial technology to shed new light on unsolved mysteries — that’s shaping smart change.


Christine L. Grahl
Content Marketing Manager at Leica Geosystems NAFTA


Guest Blogger Profile

ChristineGrahlChristine Grahl is content marketing manager at Leica Geosystems NAFTA, headquartered in Norcross, GA. A writer and editor with 18 years of experience spanning a broad range of topics, Christine has spent the last six years covering geospatial technology trends and practical solutions to everyday challenges faced by professionals using the technology. Before joining Leica Geosystems, she served as editor of POB magazine and As content marketing manager, she leads the creation and deployment of high-value educational resources across a broad range of media channels to support professionals involved in the capture, modeling and visualisation of 3D spatial information in a diverse array of markets.




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