Scene by scene

Ground breaking technology that could revolutionise the investigation of crime scenes has been pioneered by Grampian Police. John Dean reports

May 6, 2004
By John Dean
PC Alannah Mulhall and PC Joseph Gerrard with Policing Minister Dame Diana Johnson DBE

Ground breaking technology that could revolutionise the investigation of crime scenes has been pioneered by Grampian Police. John Dean reports

R2S (Return to Scene) Crime allows investigators to gather together all the forensic evidence relating to a scene of crime and present it on a computer screen in an interactive way. The system eradicates the need for officers to sift through bulky files because it allows investigators to access numerous pieces of information in seconds, not only speeding up inquiries but alleviating storage problems.

Grampian Police says the system will allow forces to streamline their evidence-gathering and collating procedures, crucial when managing major inquiries such as murder investigations.

Another advantage is that it reduces the amount of paperwork relating to prosecutions because material which would have required numerous reports to be prepared for evidential purposes, can now be presented to juries in an easy-to-understand digital format.

The system links video footage, photographs, DNA, fingerprints and other forensic information. The idea arose from the concerns of Andrew Rolph, a detective inspector with many years experience of major investigations.

He eventually became head of the force’s forensic department and, having retired, was brought back to head up the Identification Bureau. Now overseeing the R2S project, he said: “The idea came from my time investigating crimes and I had had these problems in my head for years. At a murder scene, you can get 150 sets of fingerprints, 100 DNA samples and 50-60 footprints, most of which are nothing to do with the case.”

The importance of that evidence can change as the investigation develops. The system allows the investigator to focus in on hotspots and examine the evidence relating to them.

“R2S enables us to convey the relevance and status of forensic evidence from a major crime scene to a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) in a much clearer and simpler way,” says Mr Rolph.

The SIO can use the system to view pictures of the crime scene from various vantage points, which can be moved through 360 degrees. Pictures are taken using a Spheron camera, which has the capability to produce spherical images of a whole room. Areas which are difficult to see, such as dark corners, can be enhanced. In addition, ‘hot spots’ can be inserted to show the position of fingerprints, footprints, DNA or other forensic evidence.

Once this forensic evidence has been identified, the person`s details can be inserted. Detailed photographs and short video clips can be added to show and explain evidence in more detail.

According to Grampian Police, success using the system depends as much on traditional policing methods as it does on the technology. The force stresses that forensic and related evidence still needs to be gathered with as much skill as ever and the investigators still need to be thorough to ensure that nothing is missed when searching scenes.

But once that has been done the system ensures the evidence can be easily organised and accessed.

Grampian have had the system for six months and it has been used on three murder investigations.

“What is different about this system is that the police service tends to be offered systems which have been designed by companies but are not necessarily what you want,” says Rolph. “In this case, the system was designed by ourselves working with the company, and that makes a difference.”

MaxIMT, the Aberdeen-based company that designed the system, is now marketing it to other forces and it has attracted interest from police outside the UK. Mr Rolph believes it will revolutionise the way forces organise their forensic evidence. He said: “When a major enquiry is running, the SIO has to maintain an overview of all aspects of the enquiry, so anything which makes information easy to access and review is invaluable.

Previously, we would have had to prepare numerous reports to explain how the forensic evidence all linked together – now it can all be shown together on a c

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