As seen on TV: local investigators use 3D to crack cases

Published: Apr. 30, 2018 at 4:18 PM CDT
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Local investigators are using technology you've likely only seen on crime TV shows and Hollywood movies.

The Brown County Sheriff's Office is among the first law enforcement agencies in the state to capture crime scenes and evidence in 3D.

"It's unbelievable, captures 3D," says Deputy Charlie Tassoul, Reconstruction Unit, Brown County Sheriff's Office.

The Faro 3D Scanner uses lasers to capture millions of data points to create a three-dimensional snapshot of a crime or crash scene.

"The scanner sees exactly what your eye would see," says Chelsea Reed, evidence technician, Brown County Sheriff's Office.

The department's previous system, described as labor intensive and time consuming, captured only a handful of data points each minute. An upgrade was needed.

"We could not afford to have equipment fail. In the business we're in, that's not even an option," Chief Deputy Todd Delain says.

The 3D scanner captures every detail around an object--such as a car involved in a crash. The camera stays still, but it's as if the camera is circling 360 degrees, capturing everything above, below and around.

The details in the final image have investigators eager to use the scanner.

Accident reconstruction and crime scene investigators from the Brown County Sheriff's Office are training to use the new 3D scanner for traffic crashes, arson investigations, burglaries, murders and more.

"This product is to determine somebody's innocence or guilt so when I go to a crime scene, that's my main goal is to collect enough information to potentially give to the investigators," Reed says.

The device captures every fine detail and gives investigators the ability to move around a scene. They zoom in, they zoom out, they pan around.

A scan of a crash scene shows location, shape, and color of debris. It shows buildings and trees.

Investigators can now keep the scene at their fingertips forever.

"It does exactly that, because photographs, you're going to see a piece of paper there, however, we didn't collect that piece of paper and now you might be able to read that piece of paper and get a little bit more detail off that," Reed says. "Come to find out, oh yeah, there was a potential bullet hole in the scene that we didn't know about and that kind of stuff. It'll be handy in that aspect."

It can take investigators days and weeks to learn new information, talk with witnesses and question suspects. The new system allows them to virtually revisit the scene in its original state.

"The detail and the time saving is going to be good for us," Tassoul says.

Tassoul says accuracy and speed are key when he's investigating a crash.

"We're going to have the road shut down less, officer safety, public safety, crash-wise, secondary crashes," Tassoul says.

The scanner captures color and black and white in incredible detail.

"This thing sees in the dark better than it does in the light," says Bobby Jones, Faro 3D Laser Scanner trainer, Knox County Tennessee Sheriff's Office.

It also has a sort of x-ray vision capability. Action 2 News tested it in the department's garage.

The virtual camera gives the illusion the scan was taken from above.

These are all details investigators say jurors need to ensure justice for victims and suspects.

"I think that's what the public wants.The public expects us to be able to really detail what occurred and this is another tool to be able to do that," Delain says.

The scanner and computer cost about $40,000. The device was covered as part of the department's budget.

Action 2 News asked if users have the ability to edit images or video. The company and investigators tell us if a change is made to an image, it automatically is renamed and saved as a new version. However, the original scan cannot be edited.

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