The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, Texas (AP) - New technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories is protecting crime scenes and helping investigators.
The lab has been working with police in El Paso, Texas, to develop remote video equipment that authorities say will speed the investigation process, make crime scene management easier and prevent the contamination of evidence.
"Traditionally in a crime scene, somebody will go in, review it, take Polaroids, then come out and debrief everybody else," said Michael Czerwinsky, an incident commander with El Paso police. "After that, commanders decide what other equipment and people are needed to process the crime scene."
But that can waste valuable hours, give the suspect time to get away and increase the possibility for the scene to be disturbed, Czerwinsky said.
A tool kit Sandia developed for investigators comes with set of video cameras and wireless monitoring equipment. It allows an investigator to film a crime scene while supervisors at a remote site view the evidence and direct the investigator where to go, said Sandia scientist Richard Sparks.
"Everything is recorded, so you can see what the scene looks like before investigators pick anything up," Sparks said. "That evidence has actually led to more plea bargains in El Paso. Once the suspect is confronted with that sort of evidence, they usually just give in."
There is also a tool kit for SWAT teams, which can be used to outfit cameras on team members. Managers can then direct the team and better preserve evidence during a raid, Czerwinsky said.
"When you go into a critical incident ... you have to make split-second decisions," Czerwinsky said. "You know you'll have deceased victims inside and some survivors. You'll have a court case later and you'll need evidence."
A commander can view a large monitor showing all the SWAT team camera views near the crime scene. The images can also be sent over the Internet to other police officials in near real time, Czerwinsky said.
Work on the cameras began in 2000 for a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department project designed to monitor empty houses for criminal activity, Sparks said.
"Our goal was to find a way to build remote camera systems cheaply, so HUD or police could afford the systems," Sparks said.
The program stalled when money ran out, but it got new life following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Sparks traveled to New York to install cameras on search-and-rescue dogs.
Sparks then began work with National Institute of Justice's Border Research and Technology Center in California to explore ways police could use the cameras for remote crime scene investigation.
"We're leveraging Sandia's expertise for several surveillance categories," said Chris Aldridge, a Sandia scientist and director of Border Research Technology Center. "Mostly we're using commercial, off-the-shelf technologies that can be adapted and demonstrated for various law enforcement and homeland security agencies."
Researchers are working on improving the technology: Czerwinsky would like remote cameras with a longer range given that, currently, they must be in a line of sight from the monitoring station.
He also wants encryption technology so only police agencies can see live feeds from the cameras.