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Kansas City Police Use Forensic Mapping to Investigate Accidents

Software and surveying system helps reopen roadways faster and improves officer safety.

The Kansas City (Kan.) Police Department and the state’s traffic management system have partnered to deploy a high-tech mapping device to help investigate traffic accidents.

The forensic mapping equipment is a laser-based device that captures and records measurements and points of evidence, which are downloaded to a software program that then configures a scaled diagram of the crash scene. The software also can be used to calculate speeds and other information using established formulas.

“The police department really, really had a need for this type of technology,” said Rusty James, incident management coordinator for Kansas City Scout, the traffic management organization within the Kansas Department of Transportation that funded the project. “We have far more crashes than homicides.”

The mapping concept has been used worldwide since the 1990s, but the software was crude, said James, because it was designed for other surveying purposes. In the past, a lot of manual labor was required to convert codes and other specifications to make it adaptable for highway traffic mapping. Upgraded software called MapScenes was created specifically for calculating accident reconstruction, which is required by police when reporting accidents, James said.

Prior to using the forensic mapping equipment, the officers were in the middle of traffic or the roadways had to be closed while they used a Rolatape measuring wheel or similar tools. “This is time consuming, and dangerous for the officers,” said James.

Their measurements were used to manually draw a scale diagram of the incident scene, which was not easy to enlarge for courtroom purposes or for use in an investigation.

In the last two and a half years, Kansas City Scout has purchased seven sets of the MapScenes equipment and software at about $14,500 each, plus paid a vendor to train officers on the equipment. Now various agencies use it. “I don’t know of any other traffic management center that has furnished mapping equipment to the police,” said James.

“Especially right now with the budget, [the police] are not able to purchase this type of equipment,” he said. Plus it benefits Kansas City Scout by allowing highways to be reopened faster after a crash, reducing congestion and lowering the chances of a secondary crash.

It’s helped the agencies form a great partnership, said James. Plus, it’s beneficial to highway commuters. “We know people like us better if they aren’t tied up in traffic sitting still,” he said.


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.