Many people who see something on television they think they could use wind up with nothing more than an extremely absorbent towel or a blanket with sleeves.
Not so for Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller, who saw a gadget that is revolutionizing crime scene investigations and figured out a way to get one.
The DeltaSphere-300 3D Scene Digitizer mounts on a tripod underneath a 35 mm camera and, using laser technology and computer software, can turn Sam Spade into Luke Skywalker.
The device, manufactured by 3rdTech Inc., of Durham, N.C., takes up to 9 million measurements in a 360-degree panorama of an area in 12 minutes.
Those measurements are fed into a computer, which creates a 3D model of the area, viewable from any angle and completely interactive for courtroom use.
Waller said his "Eureka" moment came while he was watching an episode of the A&E Network show "Crime 360," which profiles police departments throughout the nation that are using the technique in actual crime investigations.
After seeing the scanner in action, he decided to investigate further.
"It looked like a device we could make good use of in Lake County," Waller said. "I asked Lonnie Renda, our technology specialist, to find some information about how it operates, and Susy Huber, who does our grant research and applications, located a possible funding source."
Waller partnered with Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose, who also serves as the chairman of the board of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, in pursuit of the scanner.
"The most important function this scanner performs is to allow us to put a jury inside the crime scene like never before," Rose said. "The graphic models present exactly what the investigators and witnesses saw at a scene."
3rdTech Vice President Doug Schiff said the DeltaSphere goes the next step from the still photographs and videos now taken by police at crime scenes and presented in court.
Once the 3D models are created, he said, they allow for constant remeasuring of point-to-point locations at the scene to bolster testimony and discredit challenges.
"Even if it takes several years to get a case to trial; the precise distance from the body from this point of the room, to the blood splatter or any other location of interest can be displayed," Schiff said. "If a question comes up that was not anticipated during the investigation, the model could recalculate and measure that distance as well."
The DeltaSphere also has a feature called "Viewpoint," which uses the model to show exactly what an investigator or witness could see from where he or she was standing at the scene, Schiff said.
"Viewpoint takes the height of the person in question and can illustrate exactly what was in his field of vision when he first came into the room or at any other point of the investigation," Schiff said. "That could be critical in demonstrating beyond question that a witness is credible in describing what he saw."
3rdTech has sold DeltaSpheres to about 30 police agencies throughout the country, Schiff said, and has seen business accelerate in the last two years.
Gurnee police Officer Michael Young is chief evidence technician for the task force, and said the DeltaSphere will be a tremendous timesaver at crime scenes as well.
"Just to take the measurements this device takes in a matter of minutes would take three or four evidence technicians between 10 and 15 hours to compile," Young said. "And once the information is in the computer, it is there forever to be re-examined, long after the crime scene itself is gone."
All the evidence technicians of the task force went through three days of training to use the DeltaSphere during the week of Dec. 13 and are now ready to use it in the field.
The $66,000 unit was financed through a $49,500 grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, $9,500 from the task force and $7,000 from the state's attorney's office.
Waller said the local money came from funds forfeited to each agency after criminal prosecutions.