Among the areas of focus for the Sherman Police Department in the planned 2017-2018 fiscal year city budget is a request to purchase a $100,000 FARO 3-D laser scanner that could capture images and measurements for all kinds of crime scenes.
During the Sherman City Council’s budget workshop last month, FARO Forensic Account Manager Clay Lawson demonstrated the scanner and explained the technology that allows the device to measure between any two points scanned in a virtual reality-type interface. To demonstrate the usefulness of the device, Police Chief Zachary Flores showed the council an example of the two-dimensional drawing the department currently uses for crime scene investigations.
“With this — whereas he had lines that showed where the walls are and the placement of the evidence within it — I’m able to move down inside of it and I can go around inside of the scene and look around,” Lawson said. “I’m also able to label stuff, and if I have evidence photographs in the areas, then I can actually hyperlink evidence photos to it. So when the DA’s office prosecutor gets ahold of this, they’re not stuck with just a CD full of photos, they’re actually attached into the diagram where they go within the scene.”
For the department’s diagram, officers measured 200 points. Lawson said his scans allow accurate measurements between any two of 246,322,468 points in the same area.
Lawson said in addition to crime scenes in buildings or residences, the scanner would also be useful at car crashes and fire scenes, noting it can be used at night and is detailed enough to show burn patterns. The week before the budget workshop, SPD had closed down U.S. Highway 75 for around five hours while working a wreck; Lawson said with a FARO scanner, that job could have gone much quicker.
“I was out with the Rockwall Police Department about two weeks ago on I-30, and they had it shut down, and I was able to get done in an hour and five minutes for a fatality crash involving a semi and another vehicle which blocked the entire highway,” Lawson said. “So if any of you have ever been stuck in traffic before and going ‘Why is this taking so long?’ This is going to drastically reduce the time that it’s going to take them.”
In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area, Lawson said there are about a dozen agencies that have FARO scanners, including the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments in McKinney, Prosper and Wylie, as well as the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations and the Oklahoma City Police Department. Lawson also noted the device’s scans are widely used and accepted in court, which can be beneficial as he said it is human nature to overlook things sometimes.
“Historically in law enforcement, you always hear you get one chance to do a crime scene,” Flores said. “That’s still true, but this is as close as you get to another chance. You remove an element of human error because a lot of time when you’re testifying in court, it’s not that you didn’t know what you were doing or you’re not good at your job, but an element of doubt is all that is needed. And this removes a great capacity for that.”
Flores said the department is planning to spend around $100,000 on a midrange unit with add-ons to allow it to analyze blood splatter and projectiles.
“One of the things that we really like about this is that, depending on the purchase, you can analyze blood splatter and you can triangulate gunfire,” Flores said. “Right now we pull a string and then another string and then another and we say, ‘They were about here’ and we’ll take pictures of that.”
Lawson said the scanner can also save the department money in man hours, noting the creation of the example diagram created by the department took two officers nine to 12 hours to complete, but it only took him two hours to scan the same area.
“The Clackamas County Sheriff’s department, I believe they’re in Oregon, did a return on investment study with their (scanner), and I believe they were saving about $30,000 a year in operating costs after switching to the FARO,” Lawson said.
In addition to the public safety uses for the scanner, the city also foresees projects from other departments that could utilize it.
“I think we would use it in other areas, whether it be engineering or communications or whatever,” Assistant City Manager Steve Ayers said after Director of Engineering Clint Philpott and Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch confirmed they could use the scanner for projects.
Lawson said some cities also use scanners to document historical buildings and for preplanning before emergency situations — creating 3-D blueprints of schools and other institutions that could be useful for tactical response in the event of an active shooter.
Flores said the department, on average, deals with more than six fatalities a year, but there are opportunities to use the scanner several times a week.
“So potentially, dozens of times a year, we would take this out and we would actually be more effective in what we’re doing,” Hefton said.