Laser scanner recreates crime scenes for Muncie Police

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MUNCIE, Ind. (WTHR) - Police in Muncie have a new crime-fighting partner to help investigate crime scenes and car crashes.

It's a laser scanner that gives officers 3D views and videos and what this technology captures at crime scenes can be used in the courtroom, too.

It looks and feels futuristic: swooping into a crime scene, like a player in a virtual reality video game.

"You can look under the tables. You can peel the roof off the building, come in from any angle, do a fly through where you fly through the room," explained Muncie Police Sgt. Jeff Lacy.

But the future is now in Muncie, where police are capturing detailed 3D replicas of car accidents and crimes fast and with stunning accuracy. That's information officers and detectives can use to analyze and investigate evidence.

"It processes scenes that previously took us hours," added Sgt. Christopher Kirby. "It literally measures millions of points of interest in minutes: debris, tire marks, vehicles, placements of pedestrians."

The FARO Laser Scanner makes it happen - a tripod-mounted digital mapping system. It's a $60,000 investment, paid for by Muncie Police and the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office. Muncie is one of only a handful of departments in Indiana with the technology.

Since the purchase in January, they've used the scanner for more than a dozen cases, including one near Ball State when seven people were shot in May.

Back at the police station, officers showed us how the device works. They set it up on the tripod and set parameters of the room where they plan to scan. Then the officer essentially pushes a button and the laser captures data points, distance measurements and hundreds of photographs, all in a matter of moments.

Later, sophisticated software layers all the images to recreate a crime scene. It analyzes things like blood spatter and bullet trajectory. Plus, detectives can explore this over and over again, long after the real scene is cleared.

"We can go back and revisit and look at what the crime scene actually looked like and recreate it, versus just looking at flat pictures," Lacy explained, "and you'll get a far more accurate depiction of where your victim may have been as well as your suspect."

"And you could literally walk through the room into the hallway, just like virtual reality," Kirby added.

In the old-school method, hand-drawn diagrams for accident reconstruction took a lot of time. At crashes, using measuring tape, surveys and photos could stop traffic for hours. Weather and human error also could alter the accuracy.

Not so anymore.

Police said it's saving congestion for us on the roads and saving man hours for them on the job.

"What it has done now is amazing. What it's going to do is probably far more amazing," Lacy said.

Investigators say using scanner images in court will give more visual interest to police testimony and let jurors step right into a crime scene.

"It's just amazing the technology that goes into this piece of equipment," Kirby said.

It's an addition to the force that investigators call the biggest advancement in police work in decades.

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