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Police Department Turns Digital
OK-In March 2000, the Forensic Department of the Oklahoma City Police Department
purchased eight Olympus C-2500L digital cameras. Today, a year later, film processors
and chemistry labs have been completely shut down and the entire Forensic Department
has turned digital. The transformation was swift and impressive.
several thousand dollars since we went digital," said Officer Kent
Harville, a member of the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) unit at the Oklahoma
City Police Department. "We first considered digital imaging as a cost-saving
device. Only now have we begun to understand the full advantages of the digital
process. In our profession, speed and detail are the main requirements. One of
the greatest advantages of using a digital camera is to be able to shoot a picture
and see it immediately. You know instantly if you have captured all the details
or if you need to reshoot."
need for further instruction in the field of digital photography, the Oklahoma
City Police Department sent eight of its finest to attend the Dallas class of
the Olympus School of Digital Photography. "The School was fabulous. It informed
us about the entire digital process-from capture to output, from pixels to printing,"
says Officer Harville.
applications of digital photography were clearly illustrated by a recent incident.
When two of their police officers were fatally wounded in a highway crash, the
CSI unit used their C-2500L to record all possible evidence. When the digital
photographs of the skid marks were put into the computer, reconstructionists clearly
saw arcs in the tire marks which they had previously not seen and which would
have gone unnoticed if the scene was shot with a 35mm camera.
In addition to
using the C-2500L in the field to document crime scenes, the CSI unit also uses
it in the digital labs to photograph small items of evidence and fingerprints.
As Harville pointed out, "Photographing the crime scene is the first step
in the total documentation of the scene. Photographs are taken on arrival and
then throughout the investigation. Nothing is moved or collected until photographs
are taken. The investigation cannot proceed until we finish our job." After
the images have been recorded, the digital imaging lab makes slight corrections
to the crime scene photographs such as lightening the shadow areas so that details
can be seen or correcting the color cast to an image by a different light source.
Non-evidentiary photographs may be cropped or otherwise enhanced digitally to
bring out specific details and hasten the process of law enforcement.
added, "All of the Investigative Units in our department have been amazed
at what can be done digitally. The quality of Olympus digital cameras is really
high and the competitive pricing makes them an affordable option for our department.
Officer Kent Harville
has been a crime scene investigator for fifteen years and now runs the Digital
Imaging Lab at the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Scene Analyst Analyzes the Digital Photography Scene
conducting a crime scene investigation, deciding what tools to use is of the utmost
importance," says Daniel Rinehart, a certified senior Crime Scene Analyst
and the current Vice President of the IABPA (International Association of Bloodstain
advantage of digital photography is the possibility of the 'close-up', especially
in crime scene evidence recording or in autopsies. I have experienced this personally
in Bosnia when I helped identify individuals from mass graves. Before the bodies
could be dug up, photographs of the gravesite and the ground surface had to be
taken so that no evidence was lost once the excavation began. In the Alaska Air
Crash investigation I used digital photography to document personal effects of
the crash victims. I then created a digital catalogue which family members used
for identification and recovery purposes."
The second most
important need in forensic photography, according to Rinehart, is that of a mobile
flash that would make side lighting possible. Off-camera flash capability is an
important attribute that affects a forensic photographer's choice of equipment.
Many types of evidence must be photographed with oblique lighting (bloodstain,
pry marks, footwear impressions, fingerprints on some surfaces, etc).
came as no surprise then that Olympus's E-10 was the camera of choice for this
distinguished forensic scientist. The E-10 is a high-speed, 4 mega pixel digital
camera that answers both the need for a mobile flash and the need for the detailed
close-up. The E-10 could also be used effectively in bloodstain pattern analysis.
Previously Rinehart would manually plot stains to study directionality. Now he
can feed the data into his computer. The computer then accurately measures the
point of origin and the parameters of the stain. With the E-10, the stains can
be recreated in still frames and previously unseen stains show up more clearly
in the images. This goes a long way towards recreating the crime scene.
that digital photography is the future of forensic photography. "Digital
technology is already enabling police departments to reopen previous cases and
re-assess and re-examine previously undetected evidence. As we go forward, we
hope to see newer digital innovations that will positively influence the process
of law enforcement."
has over sixteen years experience in crime scene investigations with the Harris
County Sheriff's Department, Houston, Texas. He currently operates the Rinehart
Forensics in Spring, Texas. He is the current Regional Director of HIT (Homicide
Investigators of Texas). He is also an Instructor at the TCLEOSE (Texas Commission
on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education). He has instructed crime
scene investigation courses all over the United States.
The Admissibility of Digital Photographs in Court
By Steven B. Staggs
When digital imaging is considered for law enforcement, the concern of the admissibility of digital photographic evidence in court is often raised. The fact that digital photographs are more easily altered than film-based photographs is usually cited. Some even believe digital photographs are not admissible in court.
This article is presented in the hope of clearing up some of the confusion and misinformation about this issue. We will begin with the rules of evidence regarding digital evidence.
The Federal Level
Federal Rules of Evidence, Article X (Contents of Writings, Recordings and Photographs), Rule 101(1) defines writings and recordings to include magnetic, mechanical or electronic recordings. Rule 101(3) states that if data are stored in a computer or similar device, any printout or other output readable by sight, shown to reflect the data accurately, is an "original". Rule 101(4) states that a duplicate is a counterpart produced by the same impression as the original...by mechanical or electronic re-recording...or by other equivalent techniques which accurately reproduces the original. And Rule 103 (Admissibility of Duplicates) states a duplicate is admissible to the same extent as an original unless (1) a genuine question is raised as to the authenticity of the original or (2) in the circumstances it would be unfair to admit the duplicate in lieu of the original.
This means a photograph can be stored digitally in a computer; that a digital photograph stored in a computer is considered an original; and any exact copy of the digital photograph is admissible as evidence.
The State Level
Check your state's rules of evidence for specifics on the admissibility of digital photographs. Most states have laws that apply to digital evidence.
As an example, California Evidence Code Section 1500.6(a) (Admissibility of Printed Representation of Images Stored on Video or Digital Media to Prove Existence and Content of Image) states a printed representation of an image stored on video or digital media shall be admissible to prove the existence and content of the image stored on the video or digital media. Images stored on video or digital media, or copies of images stored on video or digital media, shall not be rendered inadmissible by the best evidence rule. Printed representation of images stored on video or digital media shall be presumed to be accurate representations of the images that they purport to represent.
Photographs as Evidence
The principal requirements to admit a photograph (digital or film-based) into evidence are relevance and authentication. Unless the photograph is admitted by the stipulation of both parties, the party attempting to admit the photograph into evidence must be prepared to offer testimony that the photograph is an accurate representation of the scene. This usually means someone must testify that the photograph accurately portrays the scene as viewed by that witness.
Guidelines for Ensuring Your Digital Photographs Are Admissible:
- Develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Department Policy, or General Order on the use of digital imaging. The SOP should include when digital imaging is used, chain of custody, image security, image enhancement, and release and availability of digital images. The SOP should not apply just to digital, but should also include film-based and video applications as well.
- Most importantly, preserve the original digital image. This can be done a variety of ways including saving the image file to a hard drive or recording the image file to a CD. Some agencies elect to use image security software.
- Digital images should be preserved in their original file formats. The saving of a file in some file formats subjects the image to lossy compression. If lossy compression is used critical image information may be lost and artifacts introduced as a result of the compression process.
- If images are stored on a computer workstation or server, and several individuals would have access to the image files, make the files read-only for all but your evidence or photo lab staff. As an example, detectives could view any image files but they would not have rights to delete or overwrite those files.
- If an image is to be analyzed or enhanced the new image files created should be saved as new file names. The original file must not be replaced (overwritten) with a new file.
Check with Your Legal Advisor
When beginning a new procedure for collecting evidence or recording a crime scene, it is always prudent to check with your legal advisor. Consider the Federal Rules of Evidence, your state's rules of evidence, and other court decisions. Two court decisions regarding digital images include:
State of Washington vs. Eric Hayden, 1995: A homicide case was taken through a Kelly-Frye hearing in which the defense specifically objected on the grounds that the digital images were manipulated. The court authorized the use of digital imaging and the defendant was found guilty. In 1998 the Appellate Court upheld the case on appeal.
State of California vs. Phillip Lee Jackson, 1995: The San Diego (CA) Police Department used digital image processing on a fingerprint in a double homicide case. The defense asked for a Kelly-Frye hearing, but the court ruled this unnecessary on the argument that digital processing is a readily accepted practice in forensics and that new information was not added to the image.
About the Author
Steven Staggs is a forensic photography Instructor and has instructed over 3,000 crime scene technicians and detectives in crime scene and evidence photography over the past 17 years. He is a police manager having been in law enforcement for the past 29 years and is the author of the book, "Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer's Guide."