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Conference focuses on how 3D-scanning collaboration might work among law agencies

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014, at 10:17 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014, at 10:18 p.m.

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On Wednesday afternoon, about three dozen law enforcement officers and officials from multiple agencies gathered at the Kansas Aviation Museum to create three-dimensional scans of a pair of planes on display on the old airport tarmac.

They were testing how local and state agencies might use the technology to gather evidence jointly if Kansas ever became home to a massive crime scene – the focus of a two-day conference held this week in Wichita.

“Could the KBI and other agencies work together” if faced with that kind of situation? Kansas Bureau of Investigation Senior Special Agent David Klamm asked as five 3D scanners worked to digitally record the exterior of a Boeing WB-47 Stratojet and a Boeing B-52D Stratofortess parked beside him.

“We haven’t had a (real-life) collaborative effort yet” where several Kansas agencies have been asked to use their 3D scanners to capture a crime scene, he said.

“But we feel like it’s only a matter of time.”

In the wake of major incidents such as the fatal shootings last fall at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., law enforcement officials have changed their perspective on mass-casualty shootings or terrorist attacks in the United States.

“Now it’s ‘when it’s going to happen,’ not ‘if it’s going to happen,’ ” said Kristin Brewer, director of the Midwest Criminal Justice Institute at Wichita State University.

As the mass shooting at the Navy Yard showed, major incidents can have many crime scenes scattered across a large geographic area, Klamm said. Law enforcement agencies in the Washington area worked together to take 3D scans of crime scenes to help gather evidence.

That kind of collaboration doesn’t exist yet among the five agencies that have 3D scanners in Kansas, but organizers of the conference are hoping to change that.

“We’re going to get together, get to know each other’s expertise, trade ideas, learn from each other,” Klamm said. The KBI, FBI, Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas State Office of the Fire Marshal, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and officers from the Wichita and Topeka police departments attended Wednesday’s portion of the conference. It continues Thursday.

Klamm added: “We are still learning and exploring.”

The KBI acquired a 3D scanner four years ago. Since then, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office crime lab, the Topeka Police Department, the fire marshal’s office and the Wichita Police Department have added them.

Wichita police received their scanner late last year.

The scanners, which look similar to highway surveying tools, collect thousands of data points from a scene as large as 300 meters, Klamm said. That data is then processed into an image that resembles a low-resonance photograph in three dimensions. The scans allow investigators to essentially revisit a crime scene without actually traveling to the location again, he said.

Some of the scanners used during Wednesday’s demonstration collect approximately 50,000 points of data per second, Klamm said. Ultra-fast versions collect somewhere in the neighborhood of 900,000 points per second.

Scanning the two airplanes Wednesday took about an hour. The agencies plan to reconvene Thursday to piece together the data and create 3D images.

Klamm said they will also talk about ways to keep scanning policies and procedures uniform across the agencies that use the technology when collaborations are needed.

Because of the expense and time involved in using 3D scanning, Klamm said the KBI usually reserves the technology for officer-involved shootings, some traffic accident scenes, homicides and potential capital murder cases.

The KBI used the 3D scanner to create an image of the charred home of former law enforcement officer Brett Seacat that was later used to “guide the jury around the house” during his first-degree murder trial last June, Klamm said.

It was also used to determine, among other things, whether Jared Woosypiti fired upon law enforcement officers during a 32-hour standoff in south Wichita last summer, he said.

“We use it a lot within the KBI for (bullet) trajectory,” he said. With a careful analysis of holes in walls, “you can tell whether the shot was outbound or inbound.”

The scanners won’t spell the end of crime scene photography or surveying accident scenes.

“This is just one type of technology,” Klamm said. “This doesn’t make them obsolete.”

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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