The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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April 19, 2014

Police getting new tool to fight crime

SHARON — Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

RUVIS, an acronym that stands for “reflective ultraviolet imaging system,” will make it easier to see and record fingerprints. The imager, coupled with a camera, also can help in the detection of blood and other kinds of evidence.

The system’s optical and digital technology gives investigators a better view of such evidence at crime scenes as palm prints, shoe prints, bites and bruises that can be photographed with the system’s digital camera.  

Using the imager’s viewer, an investigator can scan a room in search of prints and potential DNA and decide more quickly which evidence to record as a digital image before some of it is collected for later analysis in the state police laboratory.

Lt. Gerald T. “Gerry” Smith said the technology will vastly improve the collection of fingerprints which can be tricky to capture with “the old gumshoe’s kit” containing different powders in different colors, brushes with silk bristles, fingerprint lifting tape, evidence cards and other equipment.

“It seems simple but there are lots of things that can go wrong,” the patrol commander said. “There were times when we had a good print but because of other factors like humidity we wound up destroying it when we put on the dusting powder. Plus, you made a big mess in the people’s house and they weren’t very happy about that.”

The imaging system takes out a lot of the guesswork, Smith said. Its ultraviolet light makes even faint prints stand out clearly.

Fingerprints can be photographed first before an investigator starts the preservation process that sometimes can destroy them.

The old system may be tricky to master and dirty in the collection of prints but it’s still approved by the FBI as standard protocol and will continue to be used whenever physical copies are needed to back up digital images recorded by RUVIS.

“In a high-profile case like a homicide, we will still dust the print and preserve it,” Smith said. “But we will use the imager first to make sure we have a good copy of the print.”

Patrolman Ken Guthrie is among the police who have been trained by the manufacturer. He and five other patrolmen will be getting advanced training with the system next month as the department gears up to use it on a routine basis.

“We’re anxious to get it out in the field,” said the veteran with 18 years of experience. “This will help us find some of those ‘hidden fingerprints.’ It could lead to doubling, maybe tripling the number of cases we can solve using fingerprints.”

Smith wrote a federal grant application that paid for most of the system’s $14,350 cost. The balance of the money came from the department’s share of drug crime forfeiture money distributed by the state.

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