KAHULUI - The technology that federal investigators relied on to document crime scenes like the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, the 9/11 plane crash in Shanksville, Pa., and sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., is being used by Maui police officers, who mapped simulated crash and crime scenes in Kahului last week.
"If the federal government's agencies are using these same type of tools, it gives us the same type of accurate investigation," said police traffic investigator Dukie Racadio. "It's a widely recognized tool to record evidence and diagram scenes."
Racadio was among 13 Maui police officers, including traffic officers and detectives, who received certificates after completing the weeklong forensic mapping course.
Former law enforcement officer
It was taught by two former law enforcement officers from the Mainland, including one, Mick Capman, who has been called a pioneer in what has become the widespread use of the Total Station engineering tool to map and document evidence at major crime scenes.
Brad Booth, an instructor from the South Dakota Law Enforcement Training Academy, noted that the Maui course began just days after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 people attending the midnight showing of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."
In the aftermath, a news photo showed a police officer holding a prism pole as police worked to document the locations of shell casings and other evidence at the scene.
"That's what these guys are being trained on and improving their skills with," Booth said, as police traffic officers used the same instruments to create a diagram of the parking lot and a paved path at Keopuolani Park on Thursday. "They have to be able to document the scene so they can do reconstruction or re-create it."
While Booth worked with traffic officers, Capman had a group of police detectives diagramming the parking lot and bathroom area of the park as if it had been the scene of a kidnapping that led to a stabbing in the bathroom. Detectives used yellow evidence markers to note the location of a knife and blood spatter.
Both groups of officers used a Total Station instrument that takes measurements using infrared light reflected off prism poles held at locations to be noted in the diagram. While one officer focused the Total Station instrument on the locations, another officer used a data collector to log the information.
For some, including traffic investigators Racadio, Dawn Danley and Gregg Rowe, the course was a refresher on technology they use regularly as part of investigating fatal and near-fatal traffic collisions. The traffic investigators also have been called on to do forensic mapping of major crime scenes, including a recent officer-involved fatal shooting in Kihei, a standoff by a fugitive in a Kahului neighborhood and a murder at Nakalele Point.
"Now we'll be able to do our own crime scene mapping," said Detective Wendell Loo, who investigates violent crimes and completed the course.
He said the mapping, which now can be done in 3D, is helpful when a case goes to court.
"People are visual so a picture paints a thousand words," Loo said. "People can get an idea of what the crime scene looked like. Instead of standing there trying to describe it, we can show them."
As former traffic officers, Detectives Derrick Delos Santos and Jeffrey Mahoney had previously gone through some forensic mapping training, although it was years ago.
"Now rather than calling out the traffic team, we basically have our own crime scene people," Delos Santos said. "It'll help out a lot. It's basically making us more proficient at what we do."
"It's just awesome because you can get accurate distances and measurements to get an accurate representation of the scene," Mahoney said.
Maui police began using Total Station equipment in the late 1990s and now have three Total Station instruments, including two assigned to the Traffic Section and one in the Criminal Investigation Division.
Capman said the $16,000 cost of the equipment is the same as it was in 1990, when he was shift commander at the Kalamazoo, Mich., Sheriff's Department and bought a Total Station instrument for himself to use at work.
"I wanted to do a good job," he said. "I wanted it simple. I wanted it easy and accurate. I'm self-taught. If I can do it, anybody can."
He said the principles of the device have been used by the military for scoping out artillery ranges and by Lewis and Clark in their explorations west of the Mississippi.
"It's really old technology," Capman said. "It's just a compass and instrument that measures distances."
Using the Total Station in investigations, Capman said he found "I could collect more evidence in half the time."
"I could be efficient and as a supervisor, that helped me to better manage officers' time at a scene," he said. "I could open up the highways quicker. I could do a better job at crime scenes.
"Using it at a major accident scene basically pays for itself because of the savings to the economy and not holding up traffic. Compared to conventional ways with steel tape, you help the people move traffic probably 80 percent faster than what it used to be."
In the early 1990s, Capman was demonstrating use of the Total Station for Michigan state police when officers were dispatched to a fatal crash on I-75 in Detroit. They used the instrument to map the crash scene. Two days later, the director of the state police showed up, saying he had received media queries about why the road had been closed for only 1 1/2 hours compared with the usual five or six hours, Capman said.
After being told, "he on the spot authorized purchase of three more," Capman said. "That's how it grew. It doesn't take much time to teach. It doesn't take much time to document the scene. Yet you're affecting a big city like Detroit to the extent the press are inquiring about it."
Capman's work also attracted attention from federal investigators after the April 19, 1995, deadly bombing outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. "There was great interest by the feds on how to document vertical scenes," Capman said.
He said federal investigators also used the technology to investigate the July 27, 1996, bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Olympics.
Capman, who has been retired from law enforcement for 22 years, now spends most of the year instructing law enforcement officers in the use of the Total Station.
He has conducted previous training sessions on Maui, as well as on Oahu and the Big Island.
"It's getting good reviews around the country, around the world," he said. "Courts are accepting the testimony, people are being convicted properly with the right facts. It's a long-term investment in public safety."
Racadio, who has taken Capman's training course at least three times, said software has improved over the years.
He said using the Total Station allows investigators to work more quickly at a crash scene while still doing a complete and fair investigation for families whose loved ones are involved.
"It reduces the time at the scene, but the main thing is it gets accurate scene measurements," Racadio said.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.