Author Topic: Solid Training - The benefits of continuing education for crash investigation  (Read 19196 times)

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Bob Galvin | Monday, August 11, 2014


Too often, law enforcement agencies purchase advanced equipment but provide for minimal or no training on it. As a result, the equipment is used minimally or hardly at all. After a while, even a tool's most basic functions become lost for the user. This problem certainly applies to the important aspect of crime and crash investigation.

Fortunately, many crash and crime scene reconstructionists have also become expert trainers and are strong believers in continuing education for less experienced investigators who must learn the basics of mapping and diagramming scenes. Crash investigation training in particular is not only crucial, but must be continually applied if those trained are to become proficient and the best they can be.

Training Driven by Mapping Technology
Changes in technology for crash investigation work are one of the driving challenges that prompt law enforcement agencies to send investigators to training classes. One of the biggest issues is that students taking these classes work for agencies that use a wide and varied range of technology tools—from tape measures to total stations to laser scanners. "It's tough to teach a computer-aided design (CAD) crash drawing program, total stations and data collection all in a 40-hour week," says Mike Selves, crash investigation trainer and owner of Collision Forensic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. "That's why I've always tailored my training to be a two-week class—one week is a 40-hour course in CAD drawing and the second week is on how to use a total station with evidence recording software."

Law enforcement officers usually get some degree of instruction on crash investigations when attending the police academy. But it's not nearly adequate for tackling complex crash scenes requiring detailed diagrams, especially if these diagrams may be needed for court presentation.

Effective Courtroom Presentation Is the Goal
A longer crash investigation course aloows for an essential ingredient: more hands-on training with mapping and diagramming crash scenes. But another critical goal is to prepare students to present and defend their crash diagrams in a courtroom. Just becoming familiar with software functionality is not enough, Selves argues. Students must learn to accurately map a scene by actually going out and measuring a mock scene as part of the class, unless a real one suddenly becomes available. "This is why we stress the two-week training course, because they need to make sure they get everything [all scene evidence] through court," Selves says. "They need to make sure there is a chronological order of how the measurements were obtained and what they did with them once they processed the data."

In 2013, Det. Sgt. Pete Thompson with the Kings County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office acquired a Leica Total Station and the MapScenes Forensic CAD 2013 crash and crime scene diagramming software. He took a two-week training class from Joel Salinas, a trained California traffic crash reconstructionist. In December 2013, he needed to map and diagram a crime scene involving a shooting, in which a person was fatally shot while sitting in a car. There were bullet holes in the car's doors and windows.

Using MapScenes Forensic CAD, Thompson was able to insert trajectory rods (representing the bullets) in the holes and make the drawing in 3D. "You could bring all of this up on the computer, print it out and view it in the courtroom," he says. "This all would show specific evidence, because people lie, but the evidence doesn't." Thompson learned how to use Forensic CAD to establish any measurement and the distances between evidence items on the drawing. He was able to show different layers on his diagram—of a particular roadway, vehicle or body; document crime scene evidence as a separate layer and provide labels for evidence items.

Software Features Save Time in Collecting Evidence Data
Along with these capabilities comes big time savings. When Thompson and other investigators measured a scene in early 2013 where a large fight had occurred and several shots were fired; it took several hours to map the scene using a Rolatape measuring wheel. If the Total Station had been available, the scene could have been measured in 20–30 minutes.

In the training class that Thompson took, students spent several days creating mock crime scenes. But a real crime scene also became available, involving a homicide in an orchard where a body had been dumped. "We were able to use this scene for measuring and documenting," Thompson says. "Now, everybody on my team has the capability to use the total station and mapping software as a result of the training class."

Can students actually learn enough in just one two-week course to become proficient at crash reconstruction? According to Salinas, the California crash reconstruction trainer, this really depends on the skill of the student and how much they use the equipment. "If you're out using the equipment a couple times a month, you're going to take what we taught you and build on that," he says. "If you put the equipment down and you don't build on your skills, you may need a refresher course."