Baltimore County Police highlight forensic equipment

A day after forensic equipment was used on the scenes of a pair of shootings in Baltimore County, the county police department's most technologically advanced equipment was on display at an event marking National Forensic Science Week.

Police Chief Jim Johnson said at the event Wednesday that some of the equipment, including a high-definition panoramic camera, had been used "within the last 24 hours," citing a homicide in Parkville and a police-involved shooting in Woodlawn, both of which occurred Tuesday.

"Over the last several years, Baltimore County has invested millions of dollars in technology advances to help us clear cases," Johnson said. "There used to be a time when you'd catch an individual perhaps on his third, or fifth, or seventh crime. Today, this new technology, along with good, old-school police work is helping us catch that violator on his first or even second attempt."

Three pieces of equipment were on display at the event, which was held on the top floor of Baltimore County's Public Safety Building in Towson. One, a PanoScan panoramic camera, allows detectives to take a 360-degree high-definition photo of a crime scene. A computer program that accompanies the $65,000 camera system allows officers and detectives to embed information about DNA or fingerprint evidence found on items shown in the photographs.

Technician Jason Birchfield said the scan was used at, among other scenes, the crime scene at the shooting outside the Towson Town Center mall in December 2011.

"The state's attorney's office definitely likes this system," Birchfield said. "It just gives the person that didn't visit a crime scene a chance to see it as if they were at the crime scene, walk through the crime scene and be able to zoom in on items."

Additionally, Baltimore County Police showcased its Brasstrax system, which uses 3D and high definition scanning to photograph, examine, and match the "fingerprint" that every gun leaves on the back of a shell casing.

The Brasstrax system is synced up to a regional database, and can also be used to match casings to a national database when necessary.

Lastly, Forensic Analyst Erin Vinson showcased the county's GLScan system, which uses black gel strips to take impressions of fingerprints, shoe prints and tire marks.

By using the gel strips instead of dusting for prints or using chemicals, detectives get a clearer, more natural print of evidence, Vinson said. The high-definition scanning system allows detectives to zoom into small details and make matches that otherwise would have been difficult, Vinson said.

Scott Shellenberger, State's Attorney for Baltimore County, said the equipment "allows (prosecutors) to bring the best evidence into the courtroom."

"For reasons that are probably due mainly to TV and movies, jurors really expect that now," Shellenberger said. "Jurors don't expect us to walk in with a witness from a convenience store who says, 'That's him,' and we don't give anything else. They expect cell phone info, they expect DNA, (and) they expect a lot of visuals because that's how people learn these days. The more visual stuff we have to present to the jury, the more likely it is to convince them of a defendant's guilt."

Shellenberger acknowledged that popular television shows like "CSI" could hurt cases because jurors' expectations for technology and evidence can be too high, but he said the county's current technology is "getting pretty close" to matching what jurors see in films.

"Jurors love visuals," he said. "It's the same reason we all watch TV and go to movies, people like to see it. If you just put up a witness there nowadays and they're just droning on orally, I don't know if you win a case."

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