Digital Imaging Benefits Police

Law & Order, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Digital Imaging Benefits Police


Advances in digital imaging have created a wide array of opportunities to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of crime scene photography. The Mesa, Arizona, Police Department implemented an integration program that justifies use of digital imaging based on labor-saving features of the technology and the contribution these features make toward the bottom line.

"Implementing digital technology in Mesa has shown that the new system will provide the same services provided with film cameras, only faster, more accurately and at a lower cost," Robert Ruttman of the Mesa Police Department reported.

A large factor in the success at Mesa has been the implementation strategy. "Mesa took this on as a system purchase, not just different pieces of equipment put together," Ruttman said. "We also took this on as a process change, not an overnight switch."

The department spent six months familiarizing crime scene technicians with the new equipment. During the first month of actual field use, techs used both film and digital cameras at all crime scenes as part of the transition. The strategy has techs shooting all property crimes digitally after that month. More intensive cases will continue the transition to strictly digital imaging over the following six months. Eventually all cases will be shot using the digital cameras.

According to Ruttman, "We developed this plan for implementing the digital cameras over time with an end goal in mind. That goal is success."

Mesa's equipment consists of Kodak Digital Science DC120 zoom digital cameras, Kodak Professional DCS 520 digital cameras, and Kodak Digital Science 8650 and 8670 thermal printers. All are compatible with the existing department computer systems using Kodak Quicksolve, DIM's and Adobe Photoshop software.

System Justification: Cost Effectiveness

Mesa leases the equipment as part of a three-year agreement with Nelson/Keystone of San Diego. The lease allows the department to upgrade to newer technology at the end of the lease period, keeping the department apace with the latest in digital imaging technology.

The cameras write image files to flash memory cards. The cards store the images in four quality levels: good, better, best and uncompressed. Technicians can download the images to a computer hard disk, then reuse the flash memory cards. Each $50 flash card can shoot the equivalent of thousands of rolls of film during its lifetime-a significant savings.

In addition to the savings on film, the digital system eliminates the need for chemicals and processing equipment. The department has its own minilab for inhouse processing, but over the next few months, it will be in a position to conduct a comparison of consumable costs as film cameras are phased out of use.

When a case reaches court, an attorney may request all of the images taken at a crime scene. Printing these images, which can number anywhere from 200 to 1,200 for a single case, puts a strain on the minilab and runs up a significant bill for materials. Digital images of the case, on the other hand, can be written to a $2.00 CD in minutes.

"These cost savings will literally add up to tens of thousands of dollars as we move closer and closer to 100% digital imaging," Ruttman said.

Accurate, Labor-Saving Features

Justification for the digital system was established by pinpointing the most cost-effective features of digital cameras. One of the first pointed out by all of the parties involved with the system is the ability to see the image instantaneously. Each camera is equipped with a small liquid crystal display (LCD) that allows the photographer to see the image the moment it has been shot. If the image is poor, it can be shot again. This assures the photographer won't leave the crime scene without good, usable images.

"Once you leave the crime scene, it's gone forever. In many cases, the photographs are the evidence.

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