Connect: How technology is changing communication

How Can We Preserve the Modern Crime Scene?

The passage of time slowly degrades and delegitimizes crime scenes. Could a new wave of technologies preserve forensic and visual evidence indefinitely?

From the second a detective steps onto a crime scene, the clock is counting down. Degradation and contamination of the scene begin immediately. As other investigators arrive, they begin to collect evidence, only further contaminating the scene as they work. Their methods are relatively arcane: placing each piece of evidence in a separate bag; photographing and sketching what they see; taking note of small details like open windows and which lights are on. They’re old-fashioned, and they leave too much room for human error.

Law enforcement departments are somewhat frozen in time. Now, a few emerging technologies and practices are poised to bring crime scene investigators into the future and into the cloud, and they could change not only how crime scene investigations work, but also how courtrooms judge, how detectives investigate, and how lawyers argue. Virtual reality, facial reconstruction technology, augmented reality, and a range of artificial intelligence applications promise more accurate and more objective ways of analyzing a scene and determining what happened there.

Virtual Reality and 360-Degree Cameras

When a crime occurs, detectives often get just one chance to look it over in person. What if a detective could accurately recreate the original scene, and revisit it over and over, without ever leaving her desk?

Inspired by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, a graduate student in forensic science and criminal investigations at Durham University created a crime scene rover that can follow an investigator along their path at the scene of the crime, recording 360-degree video footage along the way. The footage can then be played back on a smartphone and viewed through a virtual-reality headset. This could liberate the detective from the tedious process of documenting every element of the scene, and by allowing detectives to return to the scene without contaminating it, it may allow them to spot things they originally overlooked.

Laser Scanning and Forensic Animation

By recording depth, laser scanners are able to build an accurate, 360-degree, dimensional, and computer-generated replica of the scene, on top of which forensic animators can build a virtual world. It’s an elaborate virtual landscape, in which they can freeze the scene and interact with the environment from various positions. Animation can then demonstrate elements of the time, including, for example, the likely trajectory of a bullet.

This technology is being adapted for use in virtual reality, but some experts worry about using simulations or renderings in the courtroom, and what it means to change the perspective of the jurors. “Jurors should not be witnesses,” said Adam Wandt, a professor and the deputy chair for academic technology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “VR turns the juror into a witness, and my assumption is that it will make jurors much more emotional about the case than they have been in the past.”

Augmented Reality

Crime scenes are temporary. The blood is cleaned, the weapon is bagged, the fingerprints are wiped. Augmented reality has the power to change that. Once 360-degree video or photographs are taken of a crime scene, the data can then be adapted into augmented reality. This means that a detective can return to the site where the crime was committed and use his or her smartphone or tablet to go about the room, virtually recreating the environment as it was at the time of the crime. As you’re standing in the physical space, you’re seeing it through your smartphone or even augmented reality glasses as it was on the day of the crime.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows everyday objects to communicate and share data. From washing machines to air conditioning units to Fitbits, the amount of information being stored and shared is seemingly limitless. Forensic science is now tapping into the IoT, too, to gather more data available in the cloud during criminal investigations. With the IoT, for example, a record is made every time someone switches the lights on or off, which helps the investigator recreate the scene. With sensors located in formerly inanimate objects throughout homes, buildings, and public spaces, the font of potential data sources is growing everyday.

Facial Reconstruction and Lip Reading AI

Every major city is dotted with CCTV surveillance cameras. In New York alone, the NYPD can tap into 6,000 street cameras, most of which are privately owned. Then there’s the additional 7,000 in public housing and over 4,000 in the subways. Now, facial reconstruction and lip-reading artificial intelligence (AI) are being incorporated into these cameras.

Facial reconstruction involves scanning someone’s face from multiple angles in order to create a computer-generated 3-D model. This would allow an investigator to compare the 3-D face to a still 2-D photo of a perpetrator from any angle. Lip-reading AI will inevitably be able to turn a visual image into an audio file. Transcripts of the audio files will then likely be created, and machine-learning software will be able to sift through and instantly analyze them to recognize patterns and make predictions.

Conclusion

Technology will dramatically change the way detectives approach and document a scene, and the way that prosecutors argue their cases, creating a whole new class of evidence that could become admissible in court. It will be up to the legal system to acknowledge these new methods of evidence collection and decide how they will change our judiciary practice.

Additionally, this new technology means an increase in data. Law enforcement must be careful to remain responsible in the way this data is stored and handled. Traditionally, forensic evidence is stored bit for bit in internal servers, but with the massive amount of data that will be produced, is it time for a cloud service that is secure enough to be used by law enforcement to store information as sensitive as evidence?

Virtual Reality and 360 Degree Cameras

When a crime occurs, detectives often get just one chance to look it over in person. What if a detective could accurately recreate the original scene, and revisit it over and over, without ever leaving her desk?

Inspired by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, a graduate student in forensic science and criminal investigations at Durham University created a crime scene rover that can follow an investigator along their path at the scene of the crime, recording 360-degree video footage along the way. The footage can then be played back on a smartphone and viewed through a virtual reality headset. This could liberate the detective from the tedious process of documenting every element of the scene, and by allowing detectives to return to the scene without contaminating it, it may allow them to spot things they originally overlooked.

Laser Scanning and Forensic Animation

By recording depth, laser scanners are able to build an accurate, 360-degree, dimensional, and computer-generated replica of the scene, on top of which forensic animators can build a virtual world. It’s an elaborate virtual landscape, in which they can freeze the scene and interact with the environment from various positions. Animation can then demonstrate elements of the time including, for example, the likely trajectory of a bullet.

This technology is being adapted for use in virtual reality, but some experts worry about using simulations or renderings in the courtroom, and what it means to change the perspective of the jurors. “Jurors should not be witnesses,” said Adam Wandt, Professor and Deputy Chair for Academic Technology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “VR turns the juror into a witness, and my assumption is that it will make jurors much more emotional about the case than they have been in the past.”

Augmented Reality

Crime scenes are temporary. The blood is cleaned, the weapon is bagged, the fingerprints are wiped. Augmented reality has the power to change that. Once 360-degree video or photographs are taken of a crime scene, the data can then be adapted into augmented reality. This means that a detective can return to the site where the crime was committed and use their smartphone or tablet to go about the room, virtually recreating the environment as it was at the time of the crime. As you’re standing in the physical space, you’re seeing it through your smartphone or even augmented reality glasses as it was on the day of the crime.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows everyday objects to communicate and share data. From washing machines to air conditioning units to Fitbits, the amount of information being stored and shared is seemingly limitless. Forensic science is now tapping into the IoT, too, to gather more data available in the cloud during criminal investigations. With the IoT, for example, a record is made every time someone switches the lights on or off, which helps the investigator recreate the scene. With sensors located in formerly-inanimate objects throughout homes, buildings, and public spaces, the font of potential data sources is growing everyday.

Facial Reconstruction and Lip Reading AI

Every major city is dotted with CCTV surveillance cameras. In New York alone, the NYPD can tap into 6,000 street cameras, most of which are privately owned. Then there’s the additional 7,000 in public housing and over 4,000 in the subways. Now, facial reconstruction and lip-reading artificial intelligence (AI) are being incorporated into these cameras.

Facial reconstruction involves scanning someone’s face from multiple angles in order to create a computer-generated 3-D model. This would allow an investigator to compare the 3-D face to a still 2-D photo of a perpetrator from any angle. Lip-reading AI will inevitably be able to turn a visual image into an audio file. Transcripts of the audio files will then likely be created, and machine-learning software will be able to sift through and instantly analyze them to recognize patterns and make predictions.

Conclusion

Technology will dramatically change the way detectives approach and document a scene, and the way that prosecutors argue their cases, creating a whole new class of evidence that could become admissible in court. It will be up to the legal system to acknowledge these new methods of evidence collection and decide how they will change our judiciary practice.

Additionally, this new technology means an increase in data. Law enforcement must be careful to remain responsible in the way this data is stored and handled. Traditionally, forensic evidence is stored bit for bit in internal servers, but with the massive amount of data that will be produced, is it time for a cloud service that is secure enough to be used by law enforcement to store information as sensitive as evidence?