the use of a forensic mapping system, said the operation is relatively simple and can be done by one person. He acknowledges, however, that at first, some of the trainees are intimidated by the system. "So I start out by showing them how a picture can be made by connecting dots with lines. I say if you can understand that, you can understand the process of the software, because this whole thing just connects lines, dots and symbols. It puts a dot or a symbol where a gun has been found, or draws a manhole cover or a fire hydrant. Once they see that, it's pretty simple."

Capman's 32-hour program has been certified by several states. He is quick to point out that forensic mapping does not tread on surveyors' turf. "We are very careful to make the distinction in our training between a surveyor's objectives and what our needs are for scene investigation."

Lt. Miller echoed this distinction. "We don't do boundaries, we don't try to close lines, we don't plot houses for deeds. The only thing we do is electronically map a small section of ground where an accident or crime occurred."

Capman said there is one drawback to the system -- it cannot be used in heavy rain or snow. Perhaps this is a point to consider, given that many accidents occur in these conditions.


State and local law enforcement agencies have tapped a variety of funding sources to pay for forensic mapping systems, generally costing around $14,000. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) makes grants available for traffic congestion management, through the Department of Transportation's Highway Safety Division. The Minnesota State Police funded their systems with a grant from the Commerce Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Stockton, Calif., the city police department financed a mapping system through a combination of funds from the city budget and drug forfeiture money.

Money for mapping systems used by the Kentucky State Patrol came through a joint grant from Lexington County and the Kentucky State Police. "We got the grant," Miller explained, "because we were able to successfully convince the national transportation people that if we had this equipment, we could cut down on traffic congestion resulting from accidents, and get more information, more accurately, and in less time than we could using the traditional 100-foot steel tapes."