Thanks to the new device, what used to take as many as three police officers two hours or more now takes one officer just a half-hour.
And when a crime case gets to the courtroom, the new 3D laser scanner makes presenting evidence much easier, an assistant Lancaster County district attorney said.
“There’s no more powerful evidence than showing jurors what happened. Visual evidence is the best form of evidence,” Chris Lechner told the county commissioners on Wednesday.
Lechner and Lancaster-area police detectives Scott Eelman and Greg Wahl gave an A-plus to the new high-tech tool known as the Leica Geosystems ScanStation in a report to the commissioners.
After just a month, the new device has been used nine or 10 times at crime scenes and twice more at vehicle accidents, East Lampeter Township police Det. Eelman said.
“In a short period of time, it’s been well-used, and it certainly is a valuable, incredible piece of equipment,” Eelman said.
“So far, it’s working tremendously, and it’s saving us a lot of time and effort,” said Wahl, a detective with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.
Stored in a shockproof, waterproof case, the new camera-like device is believed to be only the fifth piece of equipment of its kind in use across Pennsylvania.
The scanner presents precise, computer-generated 3D images that give a jury, as assistant DA Lechner said, clear views from every perspective of a possibly chaotic crime scene.
It also obtains far better measurements and images “that really show the whole scene in a three-dimensional way,” Eelman said.
A $149,950 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency covered the purchase and training costs.
It has been used since early this year by the county’s major crimes unit, crash investigation unit and county SERT.
In a courtroom, the 360-degree images on a computer screen allow jurors to “move” through a scene, seeing key spots from different angles, Eelman and Wahl said in showing the commissioners and the meeting audience how the device works.
"This is a game-changer for us," Lechner said.
The laser scanner collects mountains of distance and global positioning data in a matter of minutes, making time-consuming former methods obsolete, officials have said.
Along with using the device at a crime or accident scene, forensic technicians will scan schools, malls and other public spaces to create an archive of images, county officials said Wednesday.
The 3D images can then be used to guide police or emergency responders entering the area in the event of a hostage situation or other emergency, and give far better pictures to law enforcement than simple building blueprints.
That aspect excites Commissioner Scott Martin as much as the courtroom/law-enforcement aspect, he said Wednesday after hearing the presentation.
“The way it is now, someone may know that there’s a door here or there" where there's a hostage crisis or similar emergency, he said.
"Now, with this, a command post can see exactly what it looks like. And that kind of information is priceless in dealing with emergencies.”
--- The county commissioners also announced plans to hold an evening meeting next Wednesday, March 11, at 7 p.m. at the Ephrata Township municipal building, 265 Akron Road, Ephrata.
There is no regular commissioners’ meeting next Wednesday morning, and there will be no commissioners’ work session on Tuesday, March 24.
The commissioners meet at the Lancaster County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St.