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New 3D scanning technologies may have applications that could advance the police work.

When it comes to impressing jurors, crime scene investigators are feeling the pressure to live up to the high-tech expectations set by TV shows.

“The jury wants the crime scene unit to come to court and do the CSI stuff they see on TV. If we don’t, they’re totally disappointed,” says Lt. Anthony McConnell of the Crime Scene Unit at the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office.

Thankfully, 3D scanning not only impresses jurors with the latest cutting-edge technology but also allows for hyper-realistic crime scene analysis, which lets state and local law enforcement agencies provide evidence in incredibly specific detail.

The Harris County Sheriff’s office received its 3D scanning system last June and trained for 80 hours on the system. Within the first couple of months they had used the system about 10 times, says McConnell.

“We’re not only helping jurors walk through the scene, we’re putting the jury on the scene at the time and in the shoes of the witness, the suspect or the officer,” he told statetechmagazine.com.

3D technology comes after for years, law enforcement has increasingly relied on photography and camera technology to do its work; using mug shots, traffic cameras, body cameras or video surveillance, having the ability to document and recreate incidents is key to fulfilling the mission of public safety.

The category of 3D scanning is broad, with varying levels of sophistication and expense depending on the case. The scanners most often used to recreate crime scenes are typically high-end devices and have a maximum instantaneous scan speed of up to 50,000 points per second. The scans are managed by specialized software and are transmitted and manipulated through a tablet or a notebook computer, says McConnell.

Even consumer-level 3D scanners, such as desktop scanners, have been used in law enforcement. Drew Cox, CEO of Matter and Form, a vendor and manufacturer of 3D scanning technology, recalls a forensics team using the company’s desktop 3D scanner to recreate dental molds needed for a case they were working on.

The company’s latest product, the Bevel, is an accessory that allows anyone with a smartphone to have the power of 3D scanning in their hands. The product as it currently exists isn’t suitable for direct use by law enforcement, says Cox, but if you consider how evidence gathering and policing have been impacted by citizens armed with smartphone video cameras, you can imagine how technology like this might begin to shape law enforcement in the long run.

“Bevel can be a tool of security. If you add facial recognition and 3D photography to that, there can be a depth of security,” adds Cox.

While it’s still a relatively new trend, the use of 3D scanning in policing has been steadily growing for the past few years. In 2012, for example, the Davenport (Iowa) Police Department made the leap to 3D scanning, according to a report from the Quad-City Times.