Laser Helps Police Plot Traffic Crashes, Crime Scenes

For law enforcement, a laser mapping tool comes in handy to pinpoint vital pieces of evidence and create maps for records and court cases.

by / July 20, 2010
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Sgt. Jason Jeter using the Panama City Police Department's laser mapping equipment/Photo courtesy of the Panama City, Fla., Police Department

Law enforcement officials in Panama City, Fla., want officers to map out crime and traffic crash scenes with laser precision.

That's why in July, the Panama City Police Department hosted its first course in precision laser mapping. The five-day course drew about a dozen trainees from various agencies throughout the southeast, including two from the Bahamas, according to Panama City Police Sgt. Jeff Becker.

The technology works just like the tools used by surveyors to plot and log geographic locations, which create scale drawings on the computer. For law enforcement, this tool comes in handy when officers and deputies need to pinpoint vital pieces of evidence to create maps for records and court cases.

"It helps officers speed up with efficiency and accuracy," Becker said.

With traffic crashes that involve a fatality or serious injuries, for instance, officers use the equipment to plot skid marks, the final resting spots of vehicles, pieces of the car that may have fallen off or bodies that have been thrown from the vehicles. The record provides official documentation, which can help the courts determine who was at fault.

"It does two things," Becker said. "It helps the officer be able to diagram to scale the exact scene and show in court where everything was, and it also creates a record that sticks with that report as long as it's needed for evidence."

Not only that, he added, but the laser mapping process is much faster than the old method of using a tape measure.

"If you're using a tape measure, it could take hours," Becker said. "But now, we're not tying up streets that might be heavily traveled as long. This speeds up the process to 45 minutes to an hour."

The class on laser mapping was taught by instructors from the University of North Florida-affiliated Institute of Police Technology and Management (IPTM), and included classroom instruction and practical exercises in the Forest Park area. IPTM hosts four or five classes in laser mapping across the country each year.

The technology has been around for some time, and upgrades in technology have improved its functionality, Becker said. The cost of the equipment ranges from $10,000 to $150,000.


Russell Nichols Staff Writer