St. Charles County Police Department new 3D scanner

The science of fighting crime

The St. Charles County Police Department increases investigative resources with a new 3D scanner that aids crime scene investigations 

By Kristen Dragotto

It is no secret that the St. Charles County Police Department has an exceptional Forensic Services Unit. The unit is comprised of six civilian investigators, one civilian evidence custodian, one civilian evidence clerk and one commissioned supervising sergeant who oversees the division. Aside from their high-tech lab, trained staff and Automated Fingerprint Identification System also known as AFIS, the SCCPD has added a new addition to this unit within the past year – the FARO Focus S70 3D scanner. 

Crime scene investigators, Don Smallwood and Daniel James, with the SCCPD, took the time to explain the department’s newest tool.

In short, the FARO Focus S70 is a 3D scanner that the department is able to use to document crime scenes.

“It creates a 3D model documentation of our crime scenes; instead of the old measure everything and sketch it out (process using) two-dimensional photos and videos. While we still use all those things, this is the next step,” Smallwood explained.

The scanner is set up on a tripod and positioned by operators. After being programmed it does 360-degree scan of its line of sight. It is then repositioned to scan other views. From these scans the investigators are then able to gather what it has documented. 

The device is then able to provide investigators with a blueprint of the space scanned. In addition to the blueprint, it also provides a fly-through model of the crime scenes and takes panoramic photographs of the area.  The data collected includes the precise measurements of the area scanned by the FARO Focus S70 in addition to the virtual crime scene it creates.  

“I have been doing this for 21 years and how far we have come. I don’t wanna say it’s a game, but it’s that feel where you can walk through the virtual crime scene. And I can see the juries by the end of my career having VR goggles and the prosecutor leading them straight through the scene,” Smallwood said.  

James then showed a presentation of a fake crime scene. The graphics on the screen make the user feel as if he or she were standing in the actual room. The fly-through video allows the user to look up and down as well as look in a 360-degree view, and allows them to stop and zoom in at things they want to look at. 

The technicians who use the scanner are required to go through a 40-hour one-week training course through FARO who certifies the operators to use the equipment.

The scanner has more pros than cons but there are a few downsides. “The time it takes to scan a whole scene can be a drawback. It can take a couple of hours just to scan and you can’t be in the scene while it’s scanning,” James explained. 

Smallwood further commented that, “Another downside to using it is the level of expectation it sets. The ‘CSI’ affect, where the public and juries have very high expectations like: it will find more evidence. That is not necessarily true. It is the ultimate documentation tool and allows us to put better presentations together but it isn’t necessarily going to make it easier to say, ‘Yes he did it and here is why’.” 

Despite the time-consuming aspect and high expectations, the scanner is able to assist investigators in many ways. The SCCPD primarily uses the scanner for homicides, but is also used for felony crimes or traffic accidents that the crash investigative unit examines.

The department was able to purchase the FARO Focus S70 scanner at $62,965.49 through asset forfeiture funds. This purchased has not only been a benefit for the SCCPD in their investigations, but also other departments in surrounding municipalities. The SCCPD Forensic Services Unit also assists departments like the Major Crimes Unit in investigations.

The FARO Focus S70 scanner is another resource that demonstrates the high-tech quality of the SCCPD and speaks to level of dedication the department has in gathering evidence for crimes in St. Charles County, all to keep it citizens safe.

CUTLINE: Photo by Kristen Dragotto St. Charles County Police Department crime scene investigators Don Smallwood (left) and Daniel James stand with the FARO Focus S70, a 3D scanner that the department is able to use to document crime scenes.