BPD is hoping to get a FARO 3D laser scanner to improve its approach to crime scene analysis. Image: FARO
BPD is hoping to get a 3-D laser scanner to improve its approach to crime scene analysis. Image: FARO

The Berkeley Police Department has applied for grant funding to buy a 3-D laser scanner to document crime scenes and injury-collision locations more precisely and accurately than its current equipment allows.

According to an Oct. 15 memo posted by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley on the city website, the department has applied for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative program to cover the $85,793 cost of the scanner. The money would cover the warranty, maintenance and training for the scanner over a 10-year period.

According to the city, the scanner would be a significant upgrade from the current approach used by officers. The scanner would speed up the process, and require less time and training.

“Scene capture will become more convenient … and is likely to be deployed on a more frequent basis,” according to the city. “Acquisition and use of the FARO Laser Scanner will greatly enhance Police Department forensic and investigative capabilities, while decreasing related staffing costs, saving staff time, and allowing for greater ease in documenting crime and collision scenes.”

The department’s current survey equipment is “aging,” requires at least three officers to operate, and takes several hours to capture dozens of measurement points that must later be converted into a two-dimensional diagram.

“Preparation of the diagram alone is a time-consuming task, typically taking an officer at least 10 hours to complete,” according to the city. “The resulting diagram is used to support the investigation and subsequent prosecution. Some incidents may involve more than one scene, or an extended diagram, and the amount of staff time required increases accordingly.”

Operators must undergo a “highly specialized” 80-hour training class to learn how to use the current survey equipment.

The new device, a FARO 3-D laser scanner, is described as “highly portable” and “extremely precise”: “The Laser Scanner will allow for more rapid, more accurate, and more useful documentation for crime scene examination and analysis, and accident scene investigation.”

According to the city, “The device uses a laser to capture millions of data points with each scan. Scans take a few minutes each to perform, rather than hours using surveying equipment. Only one operator is required, rather than three or more. Multiple scans, taken from different vantage points, are processed together to create three-dimensional image files.”

The device also photographs the scene, according to the city.

“The resultant digital files combine extremely accurate measurements with photographs, allowing users to view the scene from different vantage points, and to dynamically move through the three dimensional, photo-realistic scene.”

The new scanner can be operated by a single person, who can be trained to use it in 32 hours.

If the city gets the grant, the item would come before council for approval prior to the acquisition of the scanner. The department did not know when a decision about the grant application was expected to be made.

Watch a promotional video that explains how the scanner works.


Read more about the FARO scanner on the company’s website.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...