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Coherent TracER

The Great Tape Giveaway


Landmark Forensics Reform Legislation cont...

Leahy proposes landmark forensics reform legislation

Article courtesy of VT Digger

WASHINGTON - Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation earlier this year, to strengthen and improve the quality of forensic evidence routinely used in the criminal justice system. The legislation is aimed at ensuring that forensic evidence used in criminal cases is of the highest scientific integrity. Before the 111th Congress adjourned, Leahy announced his intention to introduce forensics reform legislation early this year.

The Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act will ensure that forensic science reform efforts are guided by scientists and experts with both criminal justice expertise and scientific independence by establishing oversight and advisory offices and committees that are facilitated and supported by the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). The bill will also help ensure rigorous and consistent standards in the forensic science disciplines, including standards for the accreditation of forensic science laboratories and the certification of forensic science professionals working in laboratories that receive federal funding. It will seek to ensure that basic research is conducted to establish the validity and reliability of key forensic science disciplines.

"Everyone recognizes the need for forensic evidence that is accurate and reliable," said Leahy. "With a new structure in place that draws on both criminal justice expertise and scientific independence, I believe we will further ensure that only the most reliable forensic evidence is used in our criminal courts. We must provide law enforcement with reliable forensics capabilities, and we cannot allow innocent people to be wrongfully convicted based on faulty forensics evidence."

Leahy continued, "This bill aims to carefully balance the competing considerations that are so important to getting a review of forensics right. It also capitalizes on existing expertise and structures, rather than calling for the creation of a costly new agency. I am committed to exploring ways to use existing resources so that this urgent work will not negatively impact the budget. Ultimately, improvements in the forensic sciences will save money, reduce the number of costly appeals, shorten investigations and trials, help eliminate wrongful imprisonments, and reduce crime by ensuring that those who commit serious offenses are promptly captured and convicted."

In February 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a report identifying significant problems within the field of forensic science. Leahy chaired two Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in the last Congress focusing on the report's findings. Leahy invited testimony from the Director of the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, Dr. Eric Buel, about the support the Vermont Forensic Laboratory has received through federal grants, and about the growing need to make improvements to forensic science. Forensic science plays a critical role in the investigation and prosecution of criminals.

The Leahy-authored legislation introduced Tuesday seeks to address concerns raised in the report, including the need for uniform standards for forensic evidence testing and analysis. Among other things, the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act will:

  • Establish an Office of Forensic Science within the Department of Justice to make determinations about priorities, standards and structure, and to implement and enforce systems established by the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act;
  • Establish a Forensic Science Board comprised of scientists, practitioners, prosecutors , defense attorneys and other stakeholders to make recommendations in research priorities, standards and best practices;
  • Establish Committees of scientists to be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which will examine each individual forensic science discipline to determine research needs and help set uniform standards;
  • Require that all forensic science laboratories receiving federal funding be accredited according to rigorous standards set by the Forensic Science Board and the Office of Forensic Science, and that forensic scientists meet basic proficiency, education and training requirements for certification;
  • Promote foundational and innovative peer-reviewed scientific research that will strengthen the forensic sciences.
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Crime-Fighting Laser Beams cont...

Article courtesy of Police Magazine.

In 2000 I was lucky enough to tour the United States Secret Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., and I found its forensic laboratory particularly impressive. The Secret Service is renowned for having some of the best fingerprint technicians in the world, with a state-of-the-art fingerprint laboratory to match. I saw technology I'd only read about up to that point. One instrument that caught my eye was a massive two-meter-long Argon-Ion laser.

This laser was on an eight-foot-long optics table. Large tubing snaked across the table to supply the required liquid cooling of this power-hungry laser. The cost of such a device? As the saying goes, if you have to ask…. But according to the technicians, this laser allowed evidence processing that no other forensic light source technology could match.

Obviously, these devices were only used by the largest agencies because of their cost and size. Times have changed. Today Coherent Inc. offers a state-of-the-art fully portable forensic laser light source for under $50,000. Still a large sum of money, but much more accessible to a larger number of agencies.

Forensic Light Source Basics

A forensic or alternate light source is a device that outputs a specific wavelength or color of light. Many light sources are capable of outputting many different wavelengths of light, from ultra-violet, through the visible spectrum and into the infrared region. Some materials fluoresce when this colored (or UV or IR) light is applied. Biological fluids (semen, urine, saliva, vaginal fluid, blood, etc.), fingerprints, hairs/fibers, bone fragments, and chemical accelerants are just an example of the many types of evidence that can be located using forensic light sources. Each particular type of evidence responds best to a specific wavelength of light. Generally speaking, the range from ultraviolet light to green light is the most useful for locating evidence and processing fingerprints. In order to see the evidence, all light sources are used with barrier filters—goggles and/or photographic filters. The barrier filter blocks the colored light from the forensics light source but allows the light from the fluorescing evidence to pass through so it's visible.

Many different forensic light source technologies exist, including laser-based systems, lamp-based systems, and LED- (light emitting diode) based systems. All of these different technologies have their strengths and weaknesses. In my experience, most law enforcement agencies around the country that utilize forensic light sources are using a xenon lamp-based system. These include Spex CrimeScopes, Rofin Polilights, and the OmniPrint from OmniChrome. Smaller handheld LED light sources are becoming more popular because of their low cost and high portability. I have personal experience with lamp and LED forensic light sources, but I had never had the opportunity to use a laser light source until earlier this year when Coherent delivered a TracER for evaluation.

Coherent and the TracER

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Coherent Inc. is a world leader in laser technology. In 1997 Coherent introduced one of the first semi-portable forensic laser light sources. This device, named the Incriminator, weighed over 100 pounds and cost well over $100,000. But it was a milestone product because this multi-watt solid state laser could be taken from the laboratory into the field for use at crime scenes. The Incriminator required access to a 110-volt AC power supply and a large dolly with wheels to transport it around the scene.

Like all technology, laser technology has made steady improvements in miniaturization and portability. In 2005 Coherent introduced the TracER forensic laser light source. TracER stands for Trace Evidence Recovery. This diode-based solid state laser provides a whopping 5 watts of power output in a completely self-contained portable light source. The TracER is marketed as weighing less than 50 pounds and costing under $50,000. At close to 50 pounds the TracER is certainly not light, but this weight includes its built-in DC (direct current) power supply and battery. That's right, the TracER is unique because it can be powered from a standard 110-volt AC outlet or it can run off of its integrated battery for about 1.5 hours of continuous use. This means no more portable generators and extension cords in your remote crime scenes.

Physically, the TracER is about the size of a large breadbox. It has a carrying handle on top and a 15-foot fiber optic cable that delivers the laser light. This cable terminates in a hand wand that allows the user to adjust the spread of the laser with an optical zoom, as well as control the light intensity. The TracER outputs a fixed wavelength of light at 532 nanometers in the green spectrum.

Laser light is completely different from other types of light sources. A laser provides a coherent beam of monochromatic light. Comparing the light output of a laser light source to a lamp-based light source is like comparing apples and oranges. A 5-watt laser is far brighter and more powerful than a 1,000-watt lamp-based light source. According to Coherent, a 1,000-watt lamp-based light source is only producing less than 1 watt of light energy at the end of the wand because the light is incoherent and much of the light is lost through filters and as heat. In contrast, a 5-watt laser produces a full 5 watts of output power without the light leakage of other designs.

My Experiences

I spent about a week with the TracER earlier this year. I used it both in the laboratory and in the field. Let me say this, I have never seen a more powerful light source in operation. The 5 watts of green laser light made our 500-watt xenon lamp system look dim by comparison. In the lab I used the TracER to illuminate fingerprint evidence that I had processed with various chemical dyes and stains. I felt that the TracER consistently showed me more ridge detail than either lamp or LED forensic light sources. Because the green laser light is pure, there is no light leakage through the barrier filter, which can obscure the evidence. The result is an incredibly high-contrast image that clearly shows the fluorescing evidence, not the background. I've never experienced anything like it.

This made not only fingerprint evidence easier to photograph, but all types of evidence. I found that I was using much shorter exposure times when using the TracER. Shorter exposure times can equate to better photographs, especially when using digital cameras. This is because digital cameras generally exhibit more digital noise at longer shutter speeds.

I used the TracER at a sexual assault scene where the assault occurred on both the bed and on the sofa. Operating the TracER on cordless battery power, I put on my orange barrier goggles and began to examine the scene. Potential biological evidence leapt out at me. The TracER's high-power output allowed me to scan larger areas of the scene in far less time than with smaller handheld light sources. Power is really one of the main advantages of a larger forensic light source like the TracER. It's convenient to carry a small handheld LED device, but that means you're searching the scene in square inches, instead of square feet or even square yards.

The TracER in Use

I spoke with Kenneth Jones, a forensic specialist with the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) Sheriff's Department, an agency that serves a population of about 250,000. The agency purchased a TracER about a year ago. According to Jones, one of the main benefits of the TracER is the ability to use the device without an AC power source. He gave an example of processing an old house without power in a very rural area. Instead of powering up a generator and running extension cords through the scene, Jones and his team were able to fully process the scene using the TracER's internal battery. Jones said this was a big selling point to his supervisors when deciding to purchase the TracER.

The San Luis Obispo SD uses the TracER in both the laboratory and, because of its portability, in the field. According to Jones, the agency has had excellent success with the TracER in the field locating trace and biological evidence as well as locating accelerants remaining at arson scenes.

Jones says his agency has had great success with the TracER in the fingerprint laboratory. The San Luis Obispo SD often processes fingerprint evidence with dye stains and fluorescent powders. Jones feels that the higher intensity of the TracER often shows more fingerprint ridge detail than other light source technologies.

At one crime scene he observed an inherently luminescent fingerprint with the TracER. This was the first time he had ever seen this phenomenon. The fingerprint was on a terra cotta clay pot. Jones was examining the pot before carrying out further fingerprint development. When illuminated with the TracER, this fingerprint was visible with no other processing. Jones was able to photograph the fingerprint, enter the print into AFIS, and make a match to the suspect.

San Luis Obispo SD uses the TracER in conjunction with other forensic light sources, including the xenon lamp-based OmniChrome. Jones feels it's useful to still have light sources that offer tunable wavelengths of light, including ultraviolet light and blue light. He believes the TracER is an excellent addition to his toolbox and it's helped his agency solve cases. That's what it's all about.

The Coherent TracER is a unique forensic laser light source that offers cutting- edge technology with incredible power and portability. It's already in service with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the Border Patrol, as well as many smaller agencies throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

While not a replacement for all other forensic light sources, the TracER absolutely excels in trace evidence and fingerprint processing and imaging. It's hard to convey the power of this laser light source. With a competitive price point and unique features it might be time for your agency to consider adding a TracER to your forensic tool kit.

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15 Minutes with the Expert cont...

What are the important first-steps for trace evidence recovery when looking for fingerprints, biological fluids, and materials such as fibers and bone fragments?

The first-steps in any crime scene investigation begins with a non-destructive light examination.

What is the history in using lasers for crime scene investigations?

One of the first light sources used in forensic science investigations was pioneered in-field in 1977 by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). At that time, there were no fluorogenic chemical treatments available for fingerprints and other samples, and only inherently fluorescing material could be discovered. The laser sources used initially were water-cooled Argon-Ion lasers. These lasers allowed evidence to be seen that may have otherwise been missed by conventional methods. More importantly, they did not cause deterioration of biological samples.

Unfortunately though, these lasers were large, expensive and almost entirely limited to laboratory use. In order to get around these disadvantages, non-laser alternative light sources (ALS) were introduced in 1980. These alternative sources allowed for non-destructive trace evidence light examination at the crime scene. With the introduction of the battery-powered TracER in 2006, the laser could be used in-field along with ALS for non-destructive examination.

How does the battery-powered Coherent TracER benefit or help in a crime scene investigation?

One of the big advantages of the TracER is its ability to illuminate fingerprints without any chemical treatment (i.e. inherent fluorescence). Also, the TracER occasionally has higher signal to noise ratio compared to ALS, which allows the TracER to potentially reveal more prints.

How do lasers differ from ALS?

The difference is that the laser is a monochromatic light source (i.e. a single wavelength) with high intensity that can pick up what ALS might miss. ALS however, emits a range of wavelengths, potentially exciting evidence missed by the monochromatic laser. ALS also only provides a fraction of the power or intensity compared to that of a laser.

On the comparison of laser & ALS, Dalrymple states ... "I would have to say it is like comparing a rifle and a shot gun … they are both firearms, but one can do what the other one cannot. So to borrow from Al Gore – The inconvenient truth is – they are not alternative, but complimentary."

What are the advantages of TracER's adjustable beam expander?

The TracER's adjustable beam expander allows the use of a large beam size for an initial sweep to look for anomalies at the crime scene. If an anomaly is found, then the beam can be focused onto the sample with a smaller, but brighter spot for a closer look.

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Got Questions? Get Answers! cont...

Q: What kind of materials can the TracER detect?

A: The TracER can be used to detect inherently fluorescent material including latent fingerprints, biological fluids, bone fragments, and other particles or fibers. The TracER is also used for latent fingerprints treated with fluorescing chemicals used to enhance greater contrast between the print and the background, also known as ridge detail. Common fluorescing chemicals used include Ninhydrin and Diazofluorenone (DFO) for porous surfaces and RAM (Rhodamine 6G, Ardrox, MBD) for non-porous surfaces. Other non-porous procedures use cyanoacrylate (i.e. glue) and a humidity chamber.The TracER laser also excites indanedione very efficiently.

Q: Is special training or a specialized technician required to use the laser?
A: Special training or certification is not required to use the laser. However, laser safety is very important and all cautions and warnings should be followed and understood as noted in the TracER operator manual.

Q: How much power is needed to use the TracER?
A: The laser technology used in the TracER can be plugged into any standard outlet, unlike the previous generations of high-power lasers. Battery model-option can run 90 minutes without being plugged in. The battery model TracER uses standard laptop computer batteries to ensure the longest lifetime.

Q: What kind of maintenance does that TracER require?
A: The TracER contains a sealed cavity and is a hands-free system (i.e. no adjustments are required). There is no maintenance required besides battery replacement for the battery models.

Q: Are there any other components needed to use the TracER?
A: No. Since safety goggles and camera filters are included in the purchase of the TracER, there is no need to purchase any additional components in order to fully implement the TracER. However, options for hard roll-around cases for transport are available.

Q: How does the cost of the TracER compare to earlier laser sources?
A: The TracER is half the cost of earlier laser sources. First generation "Argon-Ion technology" could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars including the laser, multiple generators, water cooling, and transport. The second generation consised of Diode-Pumped Solid State (DPSS) technology and was priced at approximately one hundred thousand dollars. Today, using highly efficient Optically Pumped Semiconductor Laser (OPSL) technology, a high power TracER is under fifty thousand dollars.

Q: How many are being used in today's market?
A: Today there are hundreds of TracERs being used within government agencies and local crime labs worldwide.

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Click for More Info and Larger Image


The TracER™ is a high-performance, battery-powered, and easy-to-use portable forensic laser system specifically designed for the rigors of modern criminology and forensics. A highly versatile system, it can be used to locate fingerprints, fibers, body fluids, bone fragments, tooth chips, narcotics’ residue, and a variety of other types of trace evidence, even in high ambient light environments. The TracER provides >6W of narrow spectral output power at 532 nm and thus offers many times the sensitivity of an alternative light source. TracER provides an unprecedented level of illumination, ergonomics and functionality in a portable forensic laser system. It finds evidence and prints that you could never find with a lamp or ion laser, at a price point that is far more affordable than earlier laser-based systems.  > More
#A-1143728 8W 532nm
      - $48,000.00   
#A-113610 6W 532nm
      - $43,000.00   
#A-1139401 Tracer Battery
      - $2,000.00   

Click for More Info and Larger Image

The TracER™ Compact is a high-performance, easy-to-use portable forensic laser system specifically designed for the rigors of modern criminology and forensics. A highly versatile system, it can be used to locate fingerprints, fibers, body fluids, bone fragments, tooth chips, narcotics’ residue, and a variety of other types of trace evidence, even in high ambient light environments. The TracER provides 4W of narrow spectral output power at 532 nm and thus offers many times the sensitivity of an alternative light source. TracER provides an unprecedented level of illumination, ergonomics and functionality in a portable forensic laser system. It finds evidence and prints that you could never find with a lamp or ion laser, at a price point that is far more affordable than earlier laser-based systems.  > More
#A-1155699-4 Coherent TracER™ Compact
      4W 532nm - $28,500.00