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Identification Via DNA, Fingerprints, and 3D Scanning of Footwear

by Douglas Ankney

Eyewitness identifications of possible perpetrators of crime are often unreliable. Scientific identifications by comparison of DNA profiles and fingerprint exemplars are, by far, more trustworthy. But coming soon may be identifications made by analysis of 3D-scanned footwear.

Analysis of footwear impressions left at crime scenes has long been a well-established practice. But with the ubiquity of cameras and available surveillance footage, forensic experts in the UK have united to take footwear analysis to the next level.

Experts from West Yorkshire Police collaborated with researchers at Staffordshire University to develop a system that employs 3D scanning technology to aid in identifying the type of footwear worn by criminals. According to Claire Gwinnett, professor of forensic and environmental science at Staffordshire, “[m]ost CCTV cameras use near infrared light during nighttime recordings, which can make the footwear look completely different than in natural light.” So the experts determined to “develop a method that will help police to quickly identify the type of shoe, how common it is, and importantly what it looks like under different lighting conditions.”

The new method takes about 30 minutes with equipment costing less than £500, which translates to about $632. An interactive 3D image of a shoe under both visible and infrared light is created by using a photography light box, a turntable, and a camera.

The researchers hope that in the future the method will be adopted to create a database accessible by police professionals across the country. Officers could use the method to quickly scan a suspect’s shoe to see if it’s a match to any previous crimes—similar to databases of DNA and fingerprints.   



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