CSI Tucson: The future is now for crime scene recreation - Tucson News Now

CSI Tucson: The future is now for crime scene recreation

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PIMA COUNTY, AZ ( Tucson News Now) -

Due to shows like CSI, there's a large gap between what we see on television and what really happens in the world of crime scene investigation.

But thanks to a first of its kind device anywhere in southern Arizona, that gap is beginning to close.

So without further ado, this is the Pima County Sheriff Department's newest tool in crime-fighting.

While its appearance is rather pedestrian, this $120,000 device is actually light years ahead of what investigators once used at crime scenes.

It's called the Leica C10 Laser Scanner.

Similar technology is used by contractors and surveyors to help conceptualize new construction.

But now it's being used to recreate crime scenes more accurately and more meticulously than ever before.

"It's just like crime scene photography. We go out there and document everything we can," says Brian Aronson, a forensic technician with Pima County Sheriff's Department.  "This is just a lot more thorough because this catches everything."

Here's how it works.

Instead of measuring and documenting crime scenes the old fashioned way, the scanner records everything inside a given space using a camera and a laser.

"It measures everything it touches, so it's sending out a beam of light, nano seconds apart," says Pima County Deputy Brett Bernstein.

That beam of light essentially records, then recreates everything it touches.

At first it's a simple grid.

But when coupled with high-resolution photographs the scanner takes as well, the outcome is a three-dimensional duplication that, in some cases, can literally retrace the steps of a killer.

"The best thing about this is the perspective. So if there's a shooting, we set this down, measure the entire scene...go to the software and then move the eyes of the observer to where we think the shooter might be," Bernstein says.

Speaking of that software, it's so advanced and so expensive prosecutors have to come to the Sheriff's Department just to view these renderings.

Everything from accident reconstruction, to entire buildings, to single rooms or hallways inside a house.

If you're wondering how this potentially impact you, look no further then the next crime down the street.

"It was a homicide, there was a body on the side of the road," Aronson says, speaking of one recreation that revealed much more than was investigators noticed on scene.

In short, the scanner sees things the naked eye does not.

So when it comes to finding those who've done something to you or somebody you love, this device could make all the difference in any unsolved case.

"Whereas you can't really see it by looking straight at it," Aronson says, referring to the same case that's still being investigated. "But you pull it straight up, you can see where people turned around and drove out."

For demonstration purposes, investigators showed us a recreation of Sheriff's Department headquarters.

"What you can do is you can actually walk around your scene," Aronson says, manipulating the point of view from virtually every position imaginable.

With that capability you can do so much more than just looking at photographs or video tape.

"So let's say I want to move over here," Aronson says, starting from a wide-angle, aerial shot of the department. "But I can actually come down here -- you can see the cracks in the road."

Manipulating the software one software one step further, you can literally see ripples in the gravel.

"If you look at this rock, it's pretty close to it -- you get some really good detail on it," Aronson says.  "Let's say that was a piece of evidence. We can measure where that piece of evidence is in conjunction with other pieces of evidence."

Evidence like a gun, a shell casing, even a fragmented bullet.

Unfortunately we can't show you actual crime scenes because the scanner's so new, those cases are still being prosecuted.

What we can tell you is that it's already paying dividends.

Take a motorcycle crash on the southwest side last September.

Without the scanner investigators may not have known another cyclist likely contributed to one man's death.

But with the scanner, investigators were able to determine how one motorcycle slammed into the other.

What was first believed to be a single-cycle accident is now being investigated as something more.

"Now our eyes may not be able to pick up those small scratches on the ground, but the scanner does show that in great detail," Bernstein says.

Once again, the Pima County Sheriff's Department is the only agency in southern Arizona that has this technology.

If needed, other agencies are able to request its use and the Sheriff's Department's expertise.

The goal for everyone, of course, is better crime scene recreation.

That leads to more arrests, more convictions, and ultimately a safer place to live for all of us.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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