Currently, if police forensics teams want to preserve evidence of shoeprints or tire tread marks at a crime scene, they either have to take photographs or plaster casts, if not both. In development right now is a new technology for taking high-resolution 3-D images of such evidence in both snow and soil.
The system is expected to cost around $5,000, which is 1/10 the cost of current systems on the market, and could one day be an alternative to plaster casting. The expectation is that it would also let investigators with virtually no technical background take high-quality images with an easy-to-use interface.
According to Song Zhang, an associate professor in Purdue University‘s School of Mechanical Engineering, who is leading the effort:
“Most shoes have very small cracks from wear in addition to their design pattern, and our system will be able to capture these distinct features. These marks are unique to a specific shoe.”
One day in the near future, courtroom jurors may have the ability to don a pair of virtual reality goggles (which are also becoming increasingly convenient and inexpensive) and actually take a first-person tour around a crime scene when they currently are only be able to view video on a fat screen TV or thumb through photographs. An immediate benefit of the technology being developed by a Georgia-based company could be for investigators reviewing evidence or vetting a witness statement long after the crime scene has been cleaned up. The video can be taken by the same body cameras that many police officers already use.
The program, loaded onto the officer’s phone, guides them as they take a series of photos that will be stitched into a virtual image. With the help of some special glasses, the picture becomes an immersive experience where the viewer can look up, down, behind them and side to side.
Law enforcement is now using dogs specially trained to sniff out electronic storage media such as memory sticks, SD cards, and thumb drives. The dogs of course can’t tell if there is actually something illegal recorded on the media (like child porn), but they are a valuable tool to finding such items when they otherwise might go overlooked by human searchers. As a recent example, the thumb drive containing digital evidence reportedly used to put away Subway’s former spokesman Jared Fogle for possession of child pornography was found by a canine detector that had been trained to find such electronic devices.
After they finished their initial sweep, a new detective was brought in. He was an altogether different species of investigator: a black Labrador retriever named Bear, who set about sniffing in corners of the house. The dog had previously spent some eight months training to smell electronics, specifically USB thumb drives, memory sticks, SD cards or other small storage systems that could hide digital contraband. Humans had been removing electronics from the house all morning, though later inspection of these items would be less fruitful than hoped. But, with a handler in tow, Bear froze in front of a secret hiding spot. There, tucked away, officials found a thumb drive. “You think about investigators going into a house and trying to find a microSD card that is as big as a fingernail,” Bear’s trainer Todd Jordan told Fox 59 in July. “It will take investigators hours, especially if someone is trying to hide it.”
It is a secret exactly which chemical in the electronic storage media the dogs are trained to sniff out, but it is thought to be an adhesive commonly used in their manufacture.
Israeli company Cellebrite is reportedly developing a portable unit that would allow police officers to examine a motorist’s cell phone to determine if they had been texting at a certain point in the past, such as just prior to a motor vehicle accident. The idea is that this may be permissible and not violate the motorist’s Fourth Amendment rights if the device does not automatically access the rest of the contents of the phone. Legislation has recently been proposed in New York which would require motorists to submit their cell phones for such on-the-spot testing. According to the CDC, each day in the United States, over 8 people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. In 2013, 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, representing an almost 10 percent increase since 2011, and nearly one in five crashes (18 percent) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.
As we had mentioned in this post a few years ago, texting – not calling – 911 for emergency help would hit the mainstream market in the near future. That day is now here. Sort of. Text-to-911 is now available in select areas. Check out this handy list of supported cities to see if your town supports the feature. That said, though the service will be particularly useful to users who are deaf or hard of hearing, for the general public it still makes more sense just to call in the emergency, as texts must include your full name/address and a brief description of the issue. Likewise, communication and instructions from the 911 operator will take that much longer to receive, and the operator won’t be able to hear what’s going on around you. The plan is for text-to-911 to go national by year’s end.
Police in Compton, CA last year quietly began testing a real-time surveillance system which allowed them to record all happenings in the city – meaning all crimes – in real-time. Unlike CCTV-type stationary cameras that are widely used in the United Kingdom and have gained some traction in cities like New York, the new system is aerial based, in which a plane is outfitted with a special high resolution camera that can surveil a 25 sq. mile area at a time. Specifically, cities like Compton, Baltimore, and Dayton have tested a wide area surveillance system developed by Persistent Surveillance Systems, which is owned by retired Air Force veteran Ross McNutt. This system can record and zoom in on street crimes as local and targeted as a purse snatching from a pedestrian on a sidewalk, and then follow the getaway vehicle as it drives around town. Though the system is not yet good enough to identify individual faces, it represents a promising advance for law enforcement to observe and track criminal activity. Hollywood-style surveillance technology inches closer to reality [via The Center for Investigative Reporting]
FLIR, an industry leader in thermal imaging devices for security and military uses, is coming out this spring with the FLIR One, a $350 iPhone 5 case that, when used in conjunction with a special app, allows users to see heat vision with their iPhone camera. (This is almost as cool as the radiation detector app we noted weeks ago that turns your first responder iPhone into a Geiger Counter). The case also provides the user with extra battery capacity amounting to a 50 percent extension of battery life. The product website has more details on specs and uses.
In this example, the thief uses a fake – but very realistic looking – cover over the real Vodafone point-of-sale device. Though not also shown in the video, the underside of the device includes a tiny battery and flash storage card that lets the fake PIN pad record key presses as well as the data stored on the magnetic stripe of each swiped card.
For real. For just $4.99, you can download an app via Apple’s App Catalog that can turn your iPhone into a bona fide Geiger counter. Designed by Connecticut-based developer Image Insight, GammaPix uses your iPhone camera to scan an area for the presence gamma radiation. Specifically, it measures the frequency with which these rays hit the camera’s sensor to calculate radiation levels before warning the user if they are being exposed to harmful rays. The app was designed with support from the U.S Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and has been successfully tested in military exercises.
One crafty thief broke into a locked and alarmed door via the above method. It clearly took some tools and knowledge. Supposedly this method of entry is taught to certain firefighters during their training…