Friday, April 4, 2003

New police tool a third eye

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Detective Steve Roberts, with the Hamilton police, demonstrates the department's new Krimesite Imager.
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
Evidence unseen is evidence lost.

That's why a growing number of police agencies are relying on ultraviolet-light devices at crime scenes.

At least a half-dozen Cincinnati-area departments are using equipment that allows investigators to illuminate a large area with a high-powered ultraviolet light, then look through a special scope to reveal clues.

Fingerprints, body fluids and other evidence reflect the ultraviolet light's wavelength; they appear to glow bright green with the device's combination of light and filters. An attachment lets investigators photograph fingerprints without disturbing them as required by traditional "dust-and-lift" methods.

After borrowing the Hamilton County sheriff's "Krimesite Imager" at a scene where two bodies were found in late February, police in Hamilton purchased their own imager with grant money. The department's 17 detectives and a few other officers underwent training March 26.

"It's pretty slick; it's definitely the new thing out there. It may help solve more crimes - that is our hope," said Hamilton Detective Steve Rogers.

Chris Harris, a spokesman for Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories Inc., which makes the Krimesite Imager, said the equipment is being used in more than 600 agencies worldwide. Officers are saying "they are more successful in finding evidence at the scene of a crime than they were without it."

Without accessories, it retails for about $16,000. "That's a lot of money," Harris acknowledges. "But how do you put a price tag on getting evidence that could solve crimes?"

John Mulholland, an evidence technician for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, said, "It has helped us in many, many cases."

During the year that his office has used the imager, it has enabled investigators to obtain fingerprints from a variety of surfaces: guns, handcuffs and even a plastic food wrapper that a hungry burglar discarded in a kitchen sink. That burglar, Jason L. Patchell, is serving a 15-year sentence for a series of burglaries and auto thefts in Green Township. Prosecutors said he routinely helped himself to food, beer and whiskey in the homes he burglarized, and then stole the occupants' cars.

Virtually every crime scene has some evidence waiting to be discovered. That is based on what criminologists call Locard's Principle of Exchange: Anyone entering a scene takes something from the scene with him and also leaves some trace of himself behind.

The ultraviolet-imaging technology can find footprints from bare feet, shoe prints and cocaine residue, officers said. It can reveal bruises and bite marks on homicide victims' bodies.


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