Inside the mind of a crash scene investigator

Inside the mind of a crash investigator

Veteran police officer and crash investigation product expert, Marcus Rowe sheds light on the mindset, motivation, and essential tech that an investigator needs to capture, interpret, and present a collision scene.

When one talks about crash reconstruction and the Forensic Digital Twin, we are talking about tools that enhance a process that begins in the imagination. “My Dad was an architect, so I grew up with an affinity for plans and scale models and taking measurements in the Cornish rain,” explains Marcus Rowe. “I must have developed the ability to see the intangible before it is created, but also to reduce a real object to a few important numbers. I had strong interests in electronics, physics and maths but finally ended up spending a total of 30 years in police work. For more than 16 years, I was a forensic collision investigator and that is when the visualization abilities that I developed as a kid resurfaced.”

No two scenes are the same: “I know it sounds a bit Hollywood, but when you come onto the scene of a serious crash, you immediately start developing your hypothesis and replaying the collision in your mind’s eye. There might be a lot of debris, so you must start deciding what pieces are relevant. I scrub the timeline backwards and forwards in my mind’s eye to see if it all adds up correctly.”

Inside the mind of crash scene investigator

Is that a skill that anyone can develop or is it a gift? “It’s more a question of, do you love Newtonian mechanics and all the other laws of physics? Because in the end, whatever visualization tools you have, it’s still physics. There is noise and there is scientifically reliable information. Whatever I believe or the witness claims happened, physical evidence is how we know the truth.”

When a collision case ends up in court, it is usually because there was a tragic death or serious injury, meaning significant amounts of money are at stake. Accident investigation experts must present that evidence in a way that a group of non-expert stakeholders, including the lawyers and the jury, can all understand.

“This is where Leica Geosystems crash investigation solutions really make a huge difference on both the evidence capture and the presentation side,” says Rowe with conviction. On the evidence capture side, there is always time pressure. “It might be getting dark or snowing. A traffic jam caused by an accident can be a huge economic disruption in a busy city. That is why you have this one tight window of opportunity to read the scene, collect all the data and then clear the road as quickly as possible.”

Tools like the Leica RT360 laser scanner allow you to create a complete and accurate 3D record of the collision scene faster than ever. Best of all you don’t need to make any decisions that you might later regret; because there are no compromises in terms of resolution or what areas you are most interested in. You can just get all the information and “freeze” it in a Forensic Digital Twin. That means you have an immutable original version of the information from the scene that can then be used to test your hypotheses and create various presentations or animations.

The level of detail that you can capture, and the crash scene visualisation possibilities allow you to create immersive presentations for the courtroom or an insurance company that will draw the stakeholders into the reality of what happened and help them to make solid decisions.

“As a police officer, my work was making Devon and Cornwall safer and fairer for everyone. Now as a technology expert at Leica Geosystems, I am passionate about sharing our hi-tech solutions for crash investigation and collision reconstruction with peers and clients all over Europe. It has been a long road from tape measures to 360° point clouds, so I know firsthand the difference that it makes when you have the best tools on-scene and afterwards.”

In the end, it’s not about more features: at Leica Geosystems, we care about continuous enhancement of our solutions for law enforcement or private investigations because better workflows translate into real safety and quality of life improvements for our users and the public. Furthermore, knowing the truth about an accident and being able to present it convincingly really helps drivers, victims, and their families to come to terms with what has happened and move forward with their lives. And, if serious accidents happen over and over at the same location, then the authorities can simulate and implement preventive measures with the help of our technology.

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3 good reasons to choose the Leica RT360 laser scanner

A library of Forensic Digital Twins of many accident scenarios allows investigators to put themselves in many different situations and learn from them. This strengthens and develops investigative skills.

With the information from a Forensic Digital Twin (3D image of the real world) created with the Leica RTC360 system, it is ensured that there is no doubt in court about the accident sequence or the evidence, which supports the making informed decisions.

Leica’s Forensic Digital Twin solutions preserve and protect the original evidence at full resolution in 3D so that no matter which direction the case develops, investigators always have an immutable source of truth to refer to.


Marcus Rowe
Forensic Expert: Marcus Rowe
Business Manager - Public Safety & Forensics UK/BeNeLux
Leica Geosystems

Author: David M. Taylor

Editor: Malgorzata Krol
Senior Marketing Manager - Public Safety & Forensics
Hexagon Geosystems

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