A virtual crime scene is a digital replica of an actual scene of a crime. This criminal investigation tool began to be adopted by police forces around the world in the late 1990s. While the abilities and applications of a virtual replica are a bit exaggerated in television dramas, they are certainly useful, and they are making up a larger part of criminal investigation as they become more sophisticated. Several companies specialize in producing software that is specifically designed for building digital crime scenes.
The concept arose from the age-old tradition of recreating parts of crime scenes to assist with criminal investigation. For several hundred years, investigators drew sketches and sometimes built models to assist their work, and with the introduction of the camera police, investigations started to include detailed photographs of the scene. This recorded data ensured that the facts of the scene would be accessible long after it was cleaned up, and this often proved useful.
Early virtual crime scenes were made in software that was not designed for the purpose, but investigators found these replications useful enough to continue using them. Software that is designed to recreate a crime scene allows investigators can enter parameters such as the dimensions of a room, locations of windows, and location of every single object in the room. The virtual replica is constructed with the assistance of photographs from the scene, along with measurements from tools used by architects and surveyors to ensure that the scene is to scale.
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When a crime scene needs to be quickly cleaned up, using digital technology can be extremely useful, because investigators can continue to consider the scene for days or weeks. A virtual crime scene may also be used to test theories about the crime, or to consider whether or not witness statements are valid and useful. These recreations may also be used in court, as one side or the other presents a digital replica to support a point.
A virtual crime scene is only one object in a large library of tools that are used to solve crimes. Investigators still need to collect and analyze evidence, interview persons of interest, and physically visit the scene to look for things that they may have missed. The digital recreation is a valuable tool, however, especially since it can also be used in training so that inexperienced investigators do not inadvertently compromise a crime scene.