ALI use laser imaging technology to assist law enforcement agencies with their investigations. Could you tell us more about this service?
It’s basically using laser scanning within all sorts of contexts. The London bombings was probably one of the first main jobs it was used on, as well as the Princess Diana inquest, and similar cases. Probably most murders that you see now in London have been laser scanned and captured in this way.
A lot of it you don’t actually see in the final product because we’ve got to go with whatever’s simplest for a jury to understand. Three years ago, we were laser scanning everything, but you weren’t seeing anything in court. What’s happened since then is we’ve started to realise that jurors need to see things in three dimensions, because it’s the best way that they can understand the world.We started with putting animations through laser-scanned data, and we’ve actually progressed with putting that data live in court. So whilst the jury’s there and someone’s giving the evidence, we actually go to the position that person says he’s in. We’ll go to his line of sight and we’ll show that view, and we’ll say “Right, you were there, show us where you were, on the screen, where this happened.” And he’ll point on the screen and we’ll put a marker there, and that way the jury can really start to build up in their minds what actually happened, what the actual sequence of events was, from that statement. It’s quite strange because the way things work at the moment is that they’ll listen to the witness, they’ll go and interview a witness, and that statement seems almost infallible, but really you’ve got to test it against the real world. Once you’ve done that then you can then move on to the next stage, which is progressing the investigation.
Is it expensive to set up and run?
It is, but at the moment, we hire scanners in to do the work. It means that we’re paying on a job by job basis, and it also means that we keep up to date. The main problem is that things are constantly changing, there’s a new scanner coming out every year.
Tell us about the 3D digital recordings of crime scenes. How are they created and what part do they play in investigations?
The laser scan produces a 3D scene of a location. You can go to any position, because it’s a virtual scene within your computer. We can then start to reconstruct a scene. So if we’ve had an incident where a vehicle was in a scene but has been removed, we can quite simply put it back in for the purpose of the reconstruction. Taking it one step further, we can visit a crime scene – a murder scene, for example – and scan a body with a sub-mil laser scanner. It’s a hand scanner which works really quickly, we can capture a body in about thirty seconds. The reason we want to do that is that law enforcement want to move a body off the scene, they don’t want to leave it in situ. So they can take the body away from the scene and then we can attend that scene later, and we can capture the rest of it. And we can start to build up a really clear picture of the scene.
Also, showing this to a jury is almost better than trying to show them the photographs, because the problem with a photograph is you see one person’s point of view and you don’t see what’s around it. But this way, because you’re actually going through the whole scene, you’re really explaining to a jury what’s going on. For example, “We’ve found this series of footprints, they’re moving in this direction.” We can show the matching footprint, we can show the distances. And we can produce a very clear animation as to how this all works.
It can work for anything, so for example if there’s an area of blood spatter on a wall, we can include it. We don’t represent blood spatter and things like that exactly how they appear in the real world, because we’re all about measurement. We do a lot around body trajectories, but even then we use very generic figures; we’re not about trying to make things look gruesome, we’re just trying to show where things actually happened.
Testing line of sight is one of the best things we can do with the product. So for example, if a person was walking up a street and we want to know what he saw, or what he could have seen, we can test this. It’s more efficient than going back to the scene, trying to recreate exactly what happened, gain acccess to a property so as to verify the view from a window, and so on. So for example it would be possible to say that I couldn’t see a door at point A, only the one at point B. Taking this to a jury makes it absolutely clear whether or not someone could see what they claimed to have seen.
We can also do bullet trajectory analyses and similar scene reconstructions; they’re accurate to within about 10-20 centimetres.
What specific challenges faced by digital forensics professionals are you trying to address?
We have a security product where we’re analysing CCTV. So we’re looking at how the CCTV coverage represents the scene and whether there are any blind spots. There are also potential applications for the security sector here; we can easily identify flaws in a system and make recommendations for improvements.
Surprisingly, CCTV cameras don’t actually capture as much as you’d expect. Many of them miss the actual event. One of the things we can do is accurately map out the 3D space that a camera covers and show what’s missing within that environment, and what’s not matching up. This is really critical to a case, because juries don’t understand that; if they don’t see something on CCTV, they assume it hasn’t happened.
For example, if we have covert footage of someone walking out of an alleyway, and they insist that they weren’t there, we can use this technology to accurately pinpoint where they were. We can effectively pin points to their feet and mark out exactly where their feet were as they moved through the scene. It’s really about understanding a whole crime scene in context.
What does the future hold for ALI? What can we expect to see in the next year or so?
Where we want to get to is testing witnesses live with the data. So someone sitting in court, saying they were sitting in a given place and saw a certain event, and our technology demonstrating whether their testimony is plausible.
One thing that we’re also trying to push at the moment is to be able to take this to court as a ‘3D movie’. Effectively this would be a 3D interactive film that you can physically manipulate, zooming in and out, so that as a member of the jury you can see what’s happened and where, and can refer to a crime scene as many times as necessary throughout a trial. This is one of the areas that we think has a lot of potential.
There are also implications for the security markets, such as trying to get the correct information as quickly as possible to react to a crime taking place, particularly with things like height analysis.
Event planning is also a big opportunity. Currently police officers will walk the scene, mark out where things should go, and then create the actual plan in the office. But if you laser scan a scene, you can work out where the CCTV will be, where the barriers will be set up and so on, and then walk the scene later on to test response times more efficiently.
Essentially the point of the technology is to aid understanding; in order to fully comprehend a scene, you need to be able to see it in three dimensions, and our technology allows investigators to do this.
Advanced Laser Imaging are based in London, UK and can be contacted on 0208 899 6530. This interview was recorded at the Forensics Europe Expo in May 2014.