3D scanning: Coming soon to a Calgary crime scene near you

Calgary police are adding 3D scanning technology in an effort to be able to better present crime scenes in court.

Technology allows viewers to 'walk inside' places where crime happened

Charlottetown police are among a handful of police forces in Canada with this type of 3D laser scanning technology. The Calgary police are adding something similar to their crime scene investigations. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Thanks to 3D scanning technology, the Calgary Police Service soon will be able to hit the rewind button on any investigation.

The Calgary Eyeopener spoke to Staff Sgt. Keith Hurley of the forensic crime scene unit on Monday about how this might affect investigations.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. How exactly would Calgary police use 3D scanners?

A: It's a somewhat new technology, something we're always looking at trying to leverage: technology and opportunities with technology to assist us in the execution of our duties. But, right now, we have a request for proposal out to see what possible vendors are out there and what they can offer us.

Q: Describe the process. How is it different from taking a video of a crime scene?

A: What this does is it creates a 3D rendition of the actual crime scene and then you can go back if you've got pockets or holes that you need. You can  fill those in by placing the scanner in different areas, and then basically showing the entire image together. It gives you the ability to basically walk inside a crime scene without ever having been there.

Q: Are you planning to build your own holodeck so you can walk into the site again?

A: Not quite that exciting, but one would be built on a computer screen and put together with the actual images of the crime scene.

Q: How will this help officers in their investigations?

A:  One thing that most people don't realize is how much back work goes into the processing of a crime scene.… It's a very time consuming and laborious process.

So we look at anything that might help us reduce the amount of time that we could spend there and increase the amount of accuracy that we'd have — as well as that court presentation, to be able to show people exactly what we saw as we walk inside that crime scene. But you have the added advantage of not having to actually have been there the first time.

Q: You know this is actually a very old idea with the new high-tech scheme. The New York police used to hire somebody who would build exact scale models of a crime scene and they could be presented in court. This is basically the same thing, I guess, because you have all the dimensions exact to the way you found them. That's the idea?

A: That's the idea.

The added advantage is the ability to import other media inside this as well, so if we had photographs of one particular item that we wanted to show or pinpoint, we'd be able to bring that up.

I've been told that it has been used to document past events for the Boston marathon … and realtors use it within homes to show you what a home might look like prior to a buyer going out. 

Q: Does it look like a fancy camera you put on a tripod?

A: Not that dissimilar — it's actually just a tripod with a large device on top. And it takes a full 3D scan — it almost gives you the idea that you're flying a drone overtop and all around it at the same time. So it's really unique in that way.

Q: Has it been tested? I'm just curious if it's the kind of thing you can enter what it finds into evidence or if it's something a defence lawyer can pick apart?

A: Anything can be picked apart at some point in time if you look at it carefully enough. This just gives us a way of documenting things a little, with increased accuracy. It's not going to take away from certain things that we still do with crime scenes — there is still a human element that you can't take away out of developing a crime scene.

It's just one more tool to help us document those things.

Q: So are you just in shopping around phase?

A: We have certain conditions that we have outlined and that we're looking for and now we are looking for what vendors might be out there to meet that criteria.

Once we go through our evaluation criteria, then we'll go through a testing phase with it. And then if everything works out, we'll look at purchasing from that particular vendor.

With files from Calgary Eyeopener.


Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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