By Kelly Just, Special Projects Executive Producer - email
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Kansas City Crime Scene Investigators are using similar technology to that seen on the hit CBS show CSI to speed up and solve some of their most difficult cases.
When officers arrive on the scene of a crime, the initial search for clues can feel like they're reaching in the dark but, back in the crime lab, minor adjustments, a special filter on a digital camera and an ultraviolet flashlight turn darkness to advantage.
"There is obviously a tremendous difference in quality between what we're seeing with visible light, and what we're seeing with UV light," said Jeremy Chappel with the Kansas City Regional Crime Lab.
Chappel uses a UV camera to draw out extreme detail in evidence, like a suspect's footprint.
"I powdered the print, lifted the print," he said. "Put it on a table, put a camera over it, did UV photography on it, and clear as day, South Pole comes up on the sole of the shoe, so then at least I was able to call a detective and say, 'And you're looking for a guy that has South Pole shoes,'"
Within hours of the case Chappel described, detectives caught their guy.
But the techniques can be most crucial in detecting injuries on victims.
"This is the bite mark on a victim, and this is a dental set from our suspect and it overlays very nicely with the print," Chappel said.
Capturing physical evidence quickly and accurately is very important because investigators know that, sometimes, what they take back to the lab is all they'll have to make a case.
"We need all the tools we can in the age of domestic violence," said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
She said domestic violence cases can be some of the toughest to prosecute because they often can't rely on a victim's testimony.
"In many cases, it's become the norm, that our victim, we lose her cooperation somewhere along the way," Baker said. "In domestic violence, it's expected to a large degree because of the cycle of violence and the relationship between the offender and the victim."
In 2011, Kansas City, MO, police brought 400 cases of domestic violence to the prosecutor, but her office had to decline 291 of them, usually because the victim backed out. So investigators must work quickly to gather evidence while they still have the victim's help – which is where the technology can be used at its best. The cameras can capture injuries, like the faintest bruising, on the first day of an investigation.
"Maybe you're at an early stage and it just hasn't, the colors haven't started to come out yet, so yes UV photography at that point can still kind of visualize injuries that we can't see with our own eyes," Chappel said.
The technology works well on fading bruises too, to reveal a history of violence. An old bruise on KCTV5's Alice Barr's own leg, from a much more benign cause, shows how the UV lighting highlights detail.
"You can see where the bruise is right at the top there," Chappel said as he demonstrates how much detail is shown through the snapped photo of a now-barely visible bruise.
Chappel knows whatever he can capture at the scene of an investigation gives prosecutors one more tool to put suspects behind bars.
"It's not just good guys versus bad guys, but you're also just trying to help protect people from these guys doing something again," he said.
The Kansas City crime lab started using the digital UV cameras within the past five years. They said it is fast-tracked evidence processing in ways film cameras never allowed. But the cameras are expensive and many companies are stopping production on them because they're worried there isn't enough demand.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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