Friday, November 14, 2014

Article Number: 9908

February 1991



Today, computers are used extensively in police work.

Current computer programs accommodate practically every police

function--records management, dispatching, personnel scheduling,

and supply maintenance, to name only a few applications. But,

are departments using computers to their fullest potential? In

many instances, the answer is "No!"

One area often overlooked involves installing computer-

aided drafting (CAD) software into computers. With CAD

software, the computer is used to assist with a drawing or a


Most people would ask why a police department would need a

CAD program; after all, cops don't design or draw anything.

However, the value of this software package becomes obvious

considering the reoccurring need of police officers to

reconstruct crime scenes or to diagram scenes of traffic

accidents. In these types of investigations, a drawing shows

what occurred and reinforces the narrative of the report.


In a traffic accident report, the details included are most

likely proportional to the seriousness of the incident.

Usually, a minor "fender-bender" only qualifies for a few terse

lines telling what happened and a very simple diagram. On the

other hand, a multivehicle accident involving serious injuries

or fatalities dictates a more comprehensive investigation, one

that includes a detailed narrative and a scale drawing of the

accident site.

Once filed, reports on minor traffic accidents with no

injuries are often forgotten, never to be seen again. But, this

is not the case with reports on major accident investigations.

Insurance claims adjusters, lawyers, and perhaps even a judge

and jury will scrutinize these reports should cases go to

litigation. In these instances, it is important that the

diagram of the accident scene be as detailed and precise as


The same holds true for accounts of crime scenes. In their

reports, investigators must show an entire overview of the crime

scene, as well as specific areas crucial to the case. This

usually requires more than one drawing. The position of the

victim, the location of the weapon and other pertinent evidence,

and entrances and exits to the crime scene are factors in the

investigation and prosecution that must be carefully noted.

And, in many instances, the precision and detail of the report

reflect the quality of the investigation and credibility of the



Reconstructing an accident or crime scene requires the

investigator to show exactly what transpired, who was involved,

and the position of the objects involved. All this is

facilitated with a CAD program, because it contains pre-drawn

intersections and roadways, or buildings and rooms, onto which

information can be entered.

For example, in figure 1 (not shown in BBS version of this

article), the investigator positioned the vehicles involved in

a traffic accident, showed the direction in which the vehicles were

traveling, and indicated tire marks, visual obstructions,

traffic signs, and the scale of the diagram in feet. For a

crime scene investigation, a CAD program can be used to draw a

general view of the area and then to "zoom in" to a specific


CAD programs also offer a variety of fonts and styles of

letters to show differentiations in the diagram and to give the

finished product a professional appearance. Some CAD programs

allow for letters and numbers to be indicated at any angle and

at any scale. CAD programs normally include a library of

symbols, such as vehicles, traffic signs, etc., to be used for

reconstruction purposes. And, once familiar with the program,

users can create their own symbols and store them to be

retrieved for future application.


Using a CAD program for accident or crime scene

reconstruction offers many benefits. First, there is the

professional appearance of the diagram. A CAD program allows

the investigator to add to the diagram at any time, and the

diagram can be enlarged and reduced at any time. Once a diagram

is created, it can be resized to fit available space on a

preprinted report form. With a plotter, the same drawing can

also be made large enough for a courtroom exhibit. The finished

product is clean and free of corrections. Sloppy drawings

oftentimes reflect poorly on the quality of the investigation.

With CAD programs, there is no mess; erasures or corrections

simply do not show up on the finished product.

CAD programs prevent duplication of effort, because only

one drawing needs to be made. Then with a few keystrokes on the

computer, sections can be shown from different angles.

Many departments contract with draftsmen or engineers to

produce scale drawings. This can be quite expensive and time

consuming, which may result in a backlog of projects. Also,

additional meetings with investigators may be required to

decipher notes or measurements.

There is also the time factor to consider. Some detailed

scale drawings consume considerable workhours before they are

completed. Then, if an error is detected, the entire project

might have to be redone. With a computer and a CAD program,

alterations are generally simple and the time required to do

them is minimal. Enlargements or reductions, which would mean

additional hours at the drawing table, are produced in a matter

of seconds.

Storing or filing scale drawings also poses problems. A

large-scale drawing on a big sheet of poster board is difficult

to store since it doesn't fit in filing cabinets. As a result,

the drawing is placed wherever there is room--behind a desk, in

a storage room, next to a filing cabinet. If it is moved for

one reason or another, it may never be found. And, the more the

drawing is used in presentations, the more "worn" it becomes.

Oftentimes, additional copies of drawings need to be made

for defense attorneys and prosecutors. Large drawings are not

photo copied easily, and photographs take too long to process

and do not show details clearly. With a CAD program, making

multiple copies is a simple matter.


There are CAD programs on the market that have been

developed specifically for accident and crime scene

reconstructions. Most of the programs are inexpensive and

cost-effective, and the funds spent for them are quickly

recouped in workhours saved. With a CAD program, police

departments, regardless of size, can increase their efficiency

and expand the potential of their computer systems.


Information for this column was submitted by Joseph E.

Badger, a retired Indiana State police sergeant.

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