Sheriff’s Office first in Ohio to purchase new tech

Sheriff’s Office first in Ohio to purchase new tech

Image Credit: Dave Mast

Being first at anything is usually a fine experience, but recently, the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office pulled off a first that should help them perform their duties more succinctly and efficiently for many decades.

The sheriff’s office recently purchased equipment called Trimble Forensics, a fast processor that accurately and efficiently collects data at crash sites and crime scenes and allows the sheriff’s office to better ascertain exactly what happened on a crash site.

Holmes County is the first law-enforcement agency in Ohio to purchase the new technology, something Holmes County Sheriff Tim Zimmerly said was exciting.

“It’s cutting edge, and it is going to make a big difference in how we asses accident and crime scenes,” Zimmerly said.

Todd Jester, applied forensic specialist with Precision Laser & Instrument Inc., was in Holmes County during the first full week of April to work with officers and take them through the process of how to use the devices, which include a GPS satellite system and the laser scanning system that will allow officers to reconstruct crime and accident scenes.

Jester said the system is easy to transport, install and operate, and the officers were quickly adapting to the setup and software that accompanies the devices.

The devices include the GPS unit that surveyors use. Jester said law enforcement has recently found technology can enhance their work in accurately taking measurements and angles at accident scenes. It also includes a 3-D scanner, which Jester said will allow the department to hold on to the file forever if it chooses. There also is a camera inside the unit that allows officers to create 360-degree images of a scene.

“It used to be all wheels and tapes and there was greater room for error,” Jester said during his time teaching the officers different techniques on Thursday, April 7. “There’s all kinds of little tricks of the trades that they will pick up on quickly, and it will allow them to be far more accurate and efficient.”

Jester said his company will supply all the tech support the sheriff’s office needs.

Once a crime scene or accident has been recreated, it can be filed away and stored forever within the building or on the Cloud, allowing the office or prosecutor’s office to gain access whenever needed.

Jester said the county will now create a 3-D model and 360-degree footage that shows a jury different perspectives on a scene. He said it also does animations and sends the footage to various other organizations such as photos from a body buried underground to a bone expert who could help identify the body.

“It’s a great asset for any law-enforcement agency,” Jester said. “We can’t keep evidence forever, but through these photos we can.”

Deputy Richard Haun said the office has always done all its crime and accident investigations by hand, leaving room for human error. He said the new equipment is exact down to a couple of millimeters, so the ability to recreate a scene will be far easier.

“There’s room for error the old way, so we can now be so much more accurate in developing a crime scene, whether it is an auto accident or a shooting crime scene,” Haun said.

“What I like is that it is going to paint a picture of what a jury can accurately see what we are investigating,” Holmes County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tim Stryker said. “Not only will it paint a better picture, but it will also give them exact locations of where vehicles were and how the crash occurred. Sometimes photos just aren’t enough.”

Most importantly, it is equipment that will serve the people of Holmes County better.

“Our ultimate goal is to always provide the best service we can, to provide the finest and most thorough investigation we can, and this will put us over the top as far as that goes,” Zimmerly said.

Zimmerly said not only will the equipment help them perform their duties, but also it will help the county when prosecuting cases come to the courtroom. The equipment can provide detailed 3-D videos of how crime scenes took place, allowing juries and judges to gain greater perspective on what they are seeing and how a scene evolved.

“It really paints a great picture of a crime or accident scene far better than we ever could before,” Zimmerly said.

Zimmerly said the sheriff’s office began exploring this type of technology three years ago when a grant was written to purchase a system called Pharoah. He said the grant was missed by a minute fraction. That system was more expensive, and the idea was placed on the back burner for a while, until this past year when the department began researching Precision Laser & Instrument Inc.’s quality but lesser expensive equipment.

“We felt this unit was less expensive and was a better fit for our needs,” Zimmerly said. “We took it to the commissioners and described what we hoped to accomplish with it, and here we are today.”

The equipment was purchased for $54,000, and after the sheriff’s department tried to secure a pair of grants unsuccessfully, the Holmes County commissioners stepped in and found funding to help the office purchase the equipment.

“Even in Holmes County, we live in a more dangerous world all the time. We all know that,” commissioner Joe Miller said. “We want to do whatever is necessary to help keep our county safe and to keep people coming back, which is the reason we felt this purchase was important. If we can’t accomplish that, we all lose out.”

Zimmerly’s office handles nearly all the crashes in Holmes County, and recently, the sheriff’s office got a chance to try out the equipment on a real case, in which Jester was able to ride along and walk them through the process. Zimmerly said Holmes County prosecutor Sean Warner was fully behind the purchase, recognizing the value in the equipment.

“We are getting more crashes and more crime scenes, and this isn’t going to be something that sits in the office. We will use it a lot,” Zimmerly said.

Zimmerly said his department is appreciative of the effort by the commissioners, and this new equipment will aid not just his people, but also they are willing to work with other law-enforcement agencies should a need arise, and they can loan the equipment out.

“We’re very fortunate to have something like this,” Zimmerly said. “When you have state agencies that don’t have it yet, it says something. We very much appreciate the commissioners working with us.”

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